The RMT has suspended the rest of this week's strikes on Southern. Many striking guards will have received that news, which came after a day which saw a solid strike and well-supported pickets across the Southern network, as well as a lively demonstration at the Department for Transport, with disappointment and frustration. To many, it will feel like letting the bosses get their breath back at exactly the moment we had them on the ropes!
Strikes move quickly, and there's not always time for the entire membership to be balloted about whether strikes should go ahead when there's a new offer on the table. But many Southern workers will be asking whether there even is a new offer on the table: the union circular announcing the suspension of the strikes says only that further talks at Acas have been agreed, without “preconditions” from Southern. That's positive, but Southern guards aren't striking to win further talks, they're striking to force the company to back down from its plans to move to Driver Only Operation. Further talks at Acas, even without “preconditions”, guarantee nothing, and at the end of those talks the union might be no further along than it is now, except with a demobilised the membership that had the wind taken out of its sails in the middle of a solid and impacting strike.
The resolve Southern members have shown in these strikes suggest that, should further action take place, there's plenty more fight left in them, but there's no question that it'll be that little bit harder to gear up for action now that strikes have been suspended without any concrete concessions.
RMT has been bold and militant in the dispute so far; refusing to be cowed by Southern's attempts to bully and intimidate its members, and, in the face of legal threats from the company, going on the offensive by escalating the action, as well as spreading it to other grades of workers by balloting them on their issues. Organising demonstrations at the DfT – political actions which supplement the industrial dispute – was also absolutely the right call. However, suspending the strikes at this point, and only for the promise of talks rather than concrete concessions or a new offer that could be put to members for them to vote on, seems like a misstep. With fresh ballots of RMT and TSSA members on stations, and Aslef drivers, due shortly, the potential is there to spread the action.
Unless talks at Acas result in very concrete commitments from Southern not to de-skill the role of the guard, and in very short order, the union should call more strikes.