My life at work: tougher management, divided workers

Submitted by Matthew on 14 January, 2010 - 10:49 Author: Patrick Beckford

Patrick Beckford lives in Nottingham and works as a driver for East Midlands Trains.

Tell us a little bit about the work you do.

I’m a train driver for East Midlands Trains. EMT is part of the Stagecoach Group, which is one of the most significant transport companies in the country.

I spend most of my time on inter-city work between Liverpool and Norwich. We start and finish at all times of the day, which can be tiring, but we do only work a four day week.

Do you and your workmates get the pay and conditions you deserve?

The drivers are well paid, but most other grades — such as ticket guards and station staff — are not. Drivers tend to trade off conditions for better pay. The company tries to worsen the conditions of other grades without even the pay-off. The reason for this is that the drivers have a lot of industrial muscle. I’d like to see the company books before I could say if we get what we deserve.

Has the economic crisis affected your workplace/industry in a particular way? Has it affected the way workers think about their jobs?

Our bosses at Stagecoach made a lot of people redundant last year; they said it was because of the recession. Nobody believed them — we reckoned it was to increase their profits. There is a feeling amongst a lot of the workforce that they are happy just to have a job, but if there was some way to effectively have a go at management they would do it.

Do you enjoy your work?

I’ve had a lot of jobs on and off the railway, and as long as the train, the signals, the passengers, don’t break down, this one is pretty good.

What are your bosses like?

Stagecoach are a tougher bunch than the last lot. They got rid of most of the junior managers that they inherited from the previous franchise owners because they didn’t fit the company mould. That said, the new lot of junior managers are okay. Unsurprisingly, during disputes they follow the company line, which is always pretty hard faced.

Brian Souter, the head of Stagecoach, has actually driven buses himself when one of his bus companies was on strike, and that is what is expected of all managers. When one of the previous local managers complained about what he was being asked to do during a dispute he was told to do it or clear his desk. That’s indicative of Stagecoach’s management style. I think that a lot of workers haven’t faced up to that yet.

What unions are there in your workplace? Do they do a good job?

There are five unions at my workplace. In ascending order they are: ATCU (Associated Train Crew Union) which in this area at least seems to have usurped TSSA (Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association) as the union you join when you don’t want to go on strike.

Then there is Unite, which is busy divisively recruiting members from other unions. ASLEF only represents drivers, and I think it punches below its weight industrially.

Finally there is RMT, which is the union I’m active in. RMT members have born the brunt of management attacks. We don’t often have any clear cut victories but I think things would be a lot worse if the bosses didn’t always have to consider how RMT members would respond.

If you could change one thing about your workplace, what would it be?

To have one union for all railworkers. Having workers divided into different unions on the basis of their grade only helps the bosses. If we had a single union for the whole industry, we could fight for a levelling-up of pay and conditions for all workers, whatever their grade.

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