Rail unions

Fantasy Union of Rail and Transport Workers

What kind of union do we need? There are strengths and weaknesses in our current union set-up. Union officials will often have you believe that things can only be done the way they are done, because ... well, because they have always been done that way.

We do not agree. We have several criticisms of the existing rail unions, so it is only fair that we set out in more positive terms what our ideal union might look like. Let's call it the Fantasy Union of Rail and Transport Workers (FURT).

Public Ownership Not 'Regional Control'!

Submitted by Off The Rails on Wed, 18/09/2019 - 11:01

Be careful Boris Johnson, you almost sound like you're advocating the public ownership of Britain's railways. The PM's policy announcement at the weekend was focused on giving more power to Mayors in the North of England to make decisions about how local railways are operated. Boris said, 'I want communities to take control'. He said this might mean, 'transferring local branch line and rural services to community rail partnerships, owned by local people.”

This appealing-sounding announcement has seduced some people. Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said, “This gives us what we need to create GM Rail and . . . an integrated London-style transport system". He added that this needed to come with 'a London level of funding'. Like many people, Andy appears to have missed that as of this year, central Government ceased to fund public transport operations in London.

The government review of Britain’s railways, led by Keith Williams, former British Airways chief executive, has already concluded that the current franchise system has “had its day” and passengers need to be prioritised. But is Boris Johnson's policy a sufficient response to the crisis facing Britain's privatised railways?


Firstly, it appears to have been sketched out on the back of an envelope. A lot of detail is missing. Some detail is due to follow when Williams produces his report in a few weeks.

Secondly, it looks suspiciously like a re-brand of the status quo. There are already regional bodies, such as Transport for the North, who have a say in local franchising. It is not clear how this new announcement will add to existing arrangements.

Finally, and most importantly, regional control does not equate to public accountability. As long as private firms continue to run railway companies for profit, it won't matter whether they are managed from Manchester or Westminster, they will not meet the needs of the people using or working on them.

Is Johnson talking about full-blown public ownership? If not then his policy deserves to be condemned.

We are at the point when even a Conservative Government report is on the verge of concluding that the franchising system - the mechanism underpinning rail privatisation - is fundamentally flawed. There has never been a more obvious time to campaign for public ownership of the railways - with democratic control by workers and passengers.

Renantionalisation of the railways is one of the Labour leadership's most popular policies. Labour needs to be shouting it from this rooftops. The likes of Burnham shouldn't let the notion of regional control distract us from the true prize.

Trade Unions

Industrial news in brief


Ollie Moore and Will Sefton

Tube vote for action on noise

Driver members of the RMT union on London Underground’s Victoria, Central, Jubilee, and Northern Lines have voted to take industrial action short of strikes over excessive noise.

Drivers are demanding a permanent engineering solution to the problem of excessive noise in trains. The issue is caused by noise cancelling technology fitted to tracks to avoid excessive noise at street level, which has the effect of forcing the noise into the cabs, where it becomes unbearably loud for both drivers and passengers.

Northern: ASLEF Reps Carry On Capitulating

Submitted by Off The Rails on Tue, 17/09/2019 - 18:39

Another Rest Day Working extension expires at Northern, and yet another one is granted until 28th December.

What the hell are ASLEF playing at? They have the employer over a barrel, absolutely desperate to get all Drivers through training on the new 331 and 195 units in time for them to be introduced more widely with the December timetable change. But once again our ‘union’ has let a contender for the title of Worst Rail Operator Ever off the hook for no reason any of its members can fathom.

Off the Rails has written before about how the Northern Drivers Employee Council has gone rogue and the situation is getting worse not better. Since losing the referendum on the New Deal for Drivers by a huge margin in July, rather than turning back towards the membership and seeking to rebuild and repair the divisions they have sown, they have instead turned inwards and continued with their apparent quest to hand every possible advantage to Arriva Rail North management.

We've seen bullying and whispering campaigns against anyone daring to criticise their blunders, total contempt for the membership as reps have gone back cap in hand to the company to beg for tweaks to the disgraceful ‘deal’ that was so roundly rejected in the referendum, and now further collaboration with the bosses in weakening safety standards.

A rotten axis of rogue reps appears to be dominating the Council, propped up by a minority clique of ‘loyal' Local Level and Health and Safety reps. We say ‘loyal' because they are not loyal to the members who elected them, only to their string-pullers.

ASLEF members need to organise together, flood their branches and use the democratic structures of the union to get their reps under control, or force them to do the decent thing and resign. They are not on our side, they are on the other. They have to be stopped.

As a follow-up to yesterday's post about Northern, we would like to offer any ASLEF rep full right of reply. We believe in what we publish and challenge anyone seeking to imply that we are acting in bad faith to put up or shut up.

Trade Unions

Industrial news in brief


Ollie Moore, Jay Dawkey, Cath Fletcher and David Pendletone

UCU ballot opens

University staff belonging to UCU are being balloted for strike action this autumn over pay equality, job security, workload and pay deflation.

Working conditions in higher education have been deteriorating. The gender pay gap is over 15%; over 100,000 staff across the sector are on fixed-term contracts; academic staff work over 50 hours in a typical week; and in the past ten years pay has declined by 20% in real terms.

Rail workers strike again against DOO

Guards on South Western Railway are striking again from 30 August – 2 September, as their fight against the imposition of Driver Only Operation (DOO) goes on.

Company figures expected that 40% of services would be cancelled on Friday 30 August and Monday 2 September, with up to 50% of services cancelled at the weekend. Union activists believe these figures could be conservative.

Industrial news in brief


Sacha Ismail and Ollie Moore

Tube union RMT suspended strikes planned by drivers on London Underground’s Central and Victoria Lines on 3-4 September, after bosses made a number of concessions.

The issues at the heart of the dispute include authoritarian management culture on both lines, and driver numbers on the Central Line particularly.

The union remains in dispute and activists say strikes should be reinstated if management renege on agreements.

Plans for TUC congress

Stay on guard in SWR dispute!

Submitted by Off The Rails on Mon, 02/09/2019 - 12:49

Congratulations to RMT members on South Western Railway who have taken strike action again this weekend to defend the role of the guard.

At the start of 2019 it looked like strike action was reaping rewards when South Western Railway said that they would guarantee a second safety critical person on each train. RMT suspended strike action to allow talks to progress. But without the pressure of strikes, progress stalled; after a few months, the guards were back on strike.

We are hearing concerning reports from this weekend's picket lines. Apparently last week SWR sent a letter to RMT general secretary Mick Cash, which said that platform staff and guards will have no role in the dispatch process. Off the Rails hasn't seen the letter. We are not sure when this change is intended to take effect.

But, in essence, such a letter is a declaration that SWR intends to introduce driver only operation. If the second safety critical person plays no role in dispatch, then they are a nice-to-have. The train can still run without them. Their jobs will be vulnerable in future. Any strike action they take in future will have limited effect if the driver can run trains without them.

SWR's position is also a threat to platform dispatch staff's jobs. It has often been forgotten that the government's drive for DOO has seen platform staff's jobs disappear - often without much of a fight.

For example, when new Thameslink trains were introduced last year, the route already operated without guard. The main consequence was that platform dispatch staff were no longer required.

RMT must be clear about what it is fighting for. Is RMT aiming for a second safety critical person on board? Is that enough? What will that second person's duties involve? Will RMT hold firm and fight for the guard to be crucial in dispatch? Will RMT take a similar stance to defend the role of platform staff, and will Aslef on SWR rouse themselves sufficiently to get into the fight?

Trade Unions

Merseyrail strikes off, but SWR strikes go ahead

Submitted by Off The Rails on Thu, 29/08/2019 - 22:02

Guards on South Western Railway are striking again from 30 August – 2 September, as their fight against the imposition of Driver Only Operation (DOO) goes on. Company figures expected that 40% of services would be cancelled on Friday 30 August and Monday 2 September, with up to 50% of services cancelled at the weekend. Union activists believe these figures could be conservative.

As guards prepared for the strike, the news that SWR's parent company First had received £32 million from the government, in compensation for the impact of anti-DOO strikes. This means that taxpayers have subsidised a private company to minimise the impact of industrial action, significantly weighting the scales against workers.

On Merseyrail, RMT has suspended strikes due for 24 August, 3 September, and 5 September, after bosses made a revised offer. The new proposal does represent progress, most significantly in moving away from Merseyrail's previous position of retaining guards' jobs at the expenses of cuts in other areas, including cleaners' jobs. But questions remain over the detail of the deal, and whether guards will retain control of opening and closing doors. We've been here before on other companies, namely South Western and Northern, when a deal touted as providing a “guard guarantee” was reached, leading to the suspension of strikes, only to find that, freed from the pressure of industrial action, bosses' interpretation of the deal turned out to be little more than a soft form of DOO, leading to strikes being reinstated.

Merseyrail is the company where strikes have been strongest, bolstered by near unanimous support from Aslef driver members refusing to cross RMT picket lines. Those strikes were demobilised for months while dodgy deals, trading cleaners' jobs for guards' jobs, were brought back to the RMT NEC. Now, having finally made the decision, under the pressure of Merseyrail workers' mass meetings, to reinstate action, suspending strikes merely to “continue talks” about a new deal is a significant risk.

If the details of the new proposal are not ironed out to workers' satisfaction – i.e., a firm commitment to retain safety-critical guards' jobs, with control of the doors – the further strikes planned for 30 September, 2 October, and 4 October must go ahead.

Industrial news in brief


Ollie Moore

Harland and Wolff

A hundred and thirty workers at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast face the loss of their jobs, after the employer went into administration. Workers have occupied the shipyard, demanding it be taken into public ownership. Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell visited workers there on Monday 5 August. The Unite union has argued the yard’s productive capacity could be used to manufacture renewable energy infrastructure.

EMT out again on 17 August

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