Rail unions

Fantasy Union of Rail and Transport Workers

Published on: Thu, 03/07/2008 - 09:31

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).

Some of the good things about this fantasy union could be put in place by changes in rules and ways of

Industrial news in brief

Published on: Wed, 19/02/2020 - 09:02

Ed Whitby

Council pay: unions must move now

The local government unions (Unison, GMB and Unite) have rejected a 2% offer in response to their claim for 10% and £10 per hour starting salary (as well as an extra day’s leave, a two-hour reduction in the working week, and action on workplace stress).

The unions’ claim is based on recognition that local government workers have lost 22% on real wages since 2009. The GMB on its website helpfully explains that since 2009, teaching assistants have lost £4000 a year on average, nursery workers £5900, refuse collectors £4800, social workers £9,800.

But the claim

Industrial news in brief

Published on: Wed, 12/02/2020 - 09:13

Hugh Workman, Ollie Moore, Ed Whitby, Daniel Randall and David Pendletone

Sixth form colleges strike

The NEU’s (National Education Union’s) last strike day in sixth form colleges over funding and pay was 20 November last year. The next is 12 February.

In December the union executive and many NEU activists were, I think, hoping that an imminent Labour government would resolve the dispute in our favour.

The reason for the delay being around a month after most colleges came back is to build up momentum again after the election and Xmas break.

The upcoming three days (12 and 27 Feb, 10 March) are within the six month “shelf-life” of the first ballot, but at the same

Tube drivers to ballot for strikes

Published on: Tue, 11/02/2020 - 19:04

Ollie Moore

Train drivers’ union Aslef has announced a ballot of its members on London Underground, over pay and conditions. The ballot opens on 28 February, and closes on 9 March.

Aslef is a minority union across LU as a whole, but a majority amongst drivers. One of its key demands in pay negotiations thus far has been for a driver-specific salary increase, to bring LU drivers’ pay in line with that of mainline train drivers. Along with all four unions organising in LU, Aslef has also demanded a reduction in the working week.

An Aslef statement said that the union could not “accept a sub-standard offer


Published on: Wed, 05/02/2020 - 12:36

Bob Carnegie’s interview in Solidarity 530 Tackling the union bureaucracies is instructive for understanding trade unions in the current period.

As Bob says, some of the problems are not that new, but I was reminded strongly of the situation in the railway industry in Britain.
The overwhelming majority of organised train drivers in Britain are members of Aslef, a union with membership open only to employees responsible for the “operation of trains”. The industrial union on the job, the RMT, has members
across the grades, cleaners, station staff, engineers, back office staff etc.

Aslef may

Industrial news in brief

Published on: Wed, 05/02/2020 - 09:10

Ollie Moore and Darren Bedford

University staff represented by the University and Colleges Union (UCU) are set to strike again in disputes over pensions, pay, equalities and casualisation with a series of walk-outs scheduled over fourteen days beginning Thursday 20 February.

A further fourteen institutions are joining the sixty who struck in the autumn after reballots got them over the 50% threshold. In Scotland members of EIS (another, Scotland-only, union) have also rejected the employers’ offer, bringing the total number of mandates for action to seventy-six.

Despite eight days of strike action last term the employers

northern rail

Northern: keep it public, fight for democratic ownership!

Published on: Tue, 04/02/2020 - 08:52

On 29 January, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced what many had been expecting sooner or later since May 2018, that Arriva Rail North will be stripped of the Northern Railway franchise and that it will be taken into public ownership and run by the government's Operator of Last Resort.

The RMT union’s press release on the subject rightly highlights the danger that the government will see this is a short-term way of "sorting out" the mess Arriva has made before offering the franchise out for re-privatisation, and calls for proper long-term investment and planning. Positively, it is also devoid of that union's usual nationalistic rhetoric about the fact that Arriva is actually owned by the German state railway, Deutsche Bahn. Perhaps the union realises now that the franchise is actually being confiscated that it is nonsense to criticise the fact that the profiteers that own the network are “foreign”, as if it would be any better if they were “British”, rather than the idea of privatisation itself.

Drivers' union Aslef issued a press release from General Secretary Mick Whelan welcoming the government's decision and echoing RMT's call for proper long-term planning of the operation. This is in line with its policy for a publicly owned railway. It also namechecks the Labour metro Mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram, in the union's typical style of bigging up all things Labour. Aslef members in the region know, though, that Rotheram at least does not have a great record of backing workers taking industrial action against Driver Only Operation (DOO). Whelan also points out that things on Northern “would have been much worse without the flexibility of [its] members, who are also impacted when services are cancelled, because the company has never employed enough drivers to deliver the service it promised”.

This masks some important details. Aslef has been sanctioning Rest Day Working by its members on Northern since June 2018, under an agreement that gave huge ground to the company in return for little long-term improvement to the conditions of its members. In fact, a section of its membership actually saw their pay rate for working rest days reduced when compared to the previous agreement that expired late in 2017.

This agreement is acknowledged by some in the union as having rescued the company from having the franchise confiscated earlier, and this is openly admitted by some elected reps on the Company Council. In light of this, the union seems somewhat hypocritical to welcome the announcement when two years ago it helped rescued the company from this exact fate, in contradiction of its own policy.

It is impossible to predict at this stage what the Tories plan will be for Northern. With their new strength in Parliament, it is entirely plausible that Northern will be used as the battleground for a showdown with the rail unions. Plans for a ban on all-out strikes in the transport industry were in the Queen’s Speech, and with RMT guards recently returning another vote for industrial action on the floundering South Western Railway, another possible target for nationalisation, the Tories could see nationalisation as a way of attacking rail workers and our unions. We urgently need to gear up for that possibility and get our side to fighting fitness.

It is also possible, however, that they will not want to deal with the political fallout of such a course of action. There is little or no public support for DOO and the major impact on train services that would surely arise would very likely be blamed on the government, especially in the case of a publicly owned section of the industry.

The labour movement should begin campaigning to keep Northern public, and for it to be run under the democratic control of its workers and the communities it serves. Such a campaign could articulate a progressive socialist model of how a public service could be run, and be well placed to defend the workers in the industry and their unions in the event of attacks by the government.

Trade Unions

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Rail Gourmet workers at Paddington strike again

Published on: Fri, 31/01/2020 - 14:39

Catering workers employed by Rail Gourmet at Paddington station, in West London, struck again on 30-31 January. The workers had previously struck on 10 January, in their fight for fair rostering practises and proper payment of allowances and bonuses.

Rail Gourmet is part of Select Service Partners, a large corporation which is essentially a huge employer of fast food and retail workers across the railway industry. RG has contracts with several mainline TOCs to provide onboard catering services, while SSP provides staff to railway station concessions of huge corporations including Burger King and Starbucks.

Drawing inspiration from fast food workers' struggles in New Zealand, the USA, and here in Britain via the "McStrike" organised by the Bakers, Food, and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), hopefully the Paddington strike can be the start of a wave of organising and action in the industry-within-an-industry represented within which RG and SSP workers are employed.

Trade Unions

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Industrial news in brief

Published on: Wed, 29/01/2020 - 08:33

Ollie Moore and Darren Bedford

Although the action is yet to be announced, the next round of the university and college union (UCU) dispute appears set for the second half of February.

Where strike ballots exist, they are either related to action defending the USS pension scheme, or over casualisation, pay, workloads and equalities (the “four fights”), however in most universities live ballots exist for both disputes simultaneously. A further 37 branches are currently being re-balloted, which alongside the live 98, would significantly enhance the strike’s impact, which in November and December saw thousands of UCU members

Industrial news in brief

Published on: Wed, 08/01/2020 - 09:01

Ollie Moore

Rail union RMT has begun re-balloting its members on South Western Railway (SWR) for further industrial action to defend the role of the guard. SWR guards concluded a month-long strike on 1 January, and are now re-balloting as the six-month mandate of their current ballot, stipulated by anti-trade union legislation, has now expired.

The new ballot closes on 23 January. If it returns a majority and meets the required thresholds, SWR guards could take further action. No direct negotiations have been held between SWR and RMT since November.

Elsewhere, RMT members on the Tyne and Wear Metro struck

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