Off The Rails Summer 2006

Railworkers’ Pensions: revive the fight!

To understand the significance of the pensions dispute, we have to give it context. Pension provision for all workers in Britain is under sustained attack. Employers constantly announce that final-salary schemes are being closed and replaced by inferior money purchase schemes. Even these will be attacked when employers read the government’s Pensions White Paper.

Government attacks on pensions: Don’t welcome them, fight them!

The TUC welcomed the Government's White Paper on pensions, published in May. Only the week before, it had set out five "bottom-line" tests for the White Paper. Even on a generous reading, the White Paper passed only one.

Test no.1: restoration of the linkage between the basic state pension and average earnings. But the White Paper offers restoration only as from 2012 - with wiggle room to 2015, and then only on the basis of "affordability".

Central Trains

Central Trains Management have stepped up their attacks.

At Norwich, a medically-restricted senior conductor has been sacked after attending a 'Capability Interview'. No matter that this newly-introduced process is not recognised by any union and that there is a decades-old procedure called Ill Health Severance which is designed to protect members in this situation.

Banaghan's gang are making the rules up as they go along. And that’s assuming that they invite us to meetings in the first place.

Network Rail operational: a dispute mishandled

Network Rail operational staff will finally get their 35-hour week - but after an unacceptable wait and at the price of being locked into a two-year pay deal. Many rank-and-file members are left demoralised after RMT stumbled its way through the dispute.

Management agreed the 35-hour week five years ago. The union should have piled on pressure for NR to deliver without strings, but instead faced an insulting offer tying the shorter working week to a three-year pay deal with pitiful annual rises, with no progress on important issues like staff travel.

Fighting The Fascists

In the local council elections in May the British National Party (BNP) won 32 new seats, bringing its national total to 48.

Its election material addressed those who felt "despondent, depressed, angry, ignored, abandoned, forgotten, ripped off, exploited, overtaxed, unrepresented". They said that the crisis in the NHS showed "the profit motive outweighing patient care", and denounced "private gain for public service".

Virgin Cross Country: the road to defeat?

After months of fighting, and twelve separate days out on strike, workers on Virgin Cross Country are facing the possibility of a painful defeat. RMT's attempt to stop cuts in Sunday pay rates has failed so far. Strikes were suspended at the end of March. Although Virgin appeared to relax its previous intransigence and agreed to talks, and in spite of the General Secretary's direct intervention, they have brought no real result. RMT is recommending members vote No in a referendum on a new offer, but the dispute looks to have little chance of revival.

South West Trains

A dispute over staff taxis at Waterloo on South West Trains escalated into a company wide dispute concerning managers driving trains. It began when management restricted access to taxis, disingenuously alleging ‘abuse’.

But ASLEF members became concerned about the safety of passengers when staff who are not designated drivers perform their duties on strike days. During the first Waterloo strike, managers drove excessively long shifts without proper breaks and one manager who had not driven alone for over a decade was identified as strike breaking!

Marxism at Work: New technology - friend or foe?

Whether it is Avantix, smart-card ticketing systems such as Oyster, or Manual Electronic Logging in signal boxes, technology continues to develop and to affect our life at work.

Management often target new technology into ticketing, even while they leave safety and operational systems in the 19th century. So passengers have contactless, stored-value, plastic tickets, while we still secure points with blocks of wood and metal clips!

East London Line

Transport for London plans to privatise the Tube’s East London Line when it re-opens after its extension is built. Over a hundred stations, signals and drivers’ jobs will be transferred to the new private operator.

After its infrastructure was hived off to the private sector under the ‘Public-Private Partnership’, London Underground is already part-privatised. But its operational side remains the only publicly-owned railway operation in the country. The privatisation of the East London Line could be the first slice in a salami-style operation to sell it off line by line.

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