On Monday 13 March, RMT guards and drivers on Southern Railways struck and were joined for the first time by RMT guards and drivers on Northern and Merseyrail. RMT continues its fight against the extension of driver-only operation on Southern, while the leadership of drivers’ union Aslef seems desperate to surrender.
Two days after the latest RMT strike, Aslef announced to its members the result of the latest secret round of talks. The result? The same deal, with some very minor improvements. The Financial Times was open in describing it as the same deal rewritten and talks about this whole debacle as a “humiliation” of Aslef. It is unsurprising that the union finds itself in this current mess — it should have returned to strike action before going back into talks. The ballot of Aslef members on this deal closes on 3 April.
Meanwhile at Northern and Merseyrail, the RMT has begun taking action in its disputes with those companies over the same issue. On Northern RMT members were rock solid, with only very small numbers of scabs and none at all at some depots. The picture among RMT members was very similar at Merseyrail. Perhaps the biggest story to come out of this day’s action was the massive show of solidarity by Aslef drivers at Merseyrail. None of the drivers booked to work that day crossed the RMT picket lines, meaning the only trains to run that day on the network were driven by managers, and the company had to almost completely scrap its planned timetable of reduced services.
This show of unity with guards by Aslef drivers, ignoring a circular from their union advising them to work normally, massively increases the likelihood that a campaign of industrial action against DOO can succeed in defeating employers and the Tory government. Meanwhile, on Northern, where there is no pre-existing culture of respect for picket lines between Aslef and RMT members, only one Aslef driver chose not to cross the picket line.
Arriva Rail North management attempted to victimise that driver but were forced to back down or face a dispute with Aslef. Talks were held between Merseyrail managers and RMT to try to avert a strike during the upcoming Grand National horse racing festival at Aintree 6-8 April but no agreement was reached. RMT has now announced strikes on 8 April on Northern, Southern and Merseyrail.
RMT has written to Arriva Rail North asking for talks — presumably to make itself appear reasonable. A better approach would have been to announce strike dates and declare itself available for talks.
This dispute is likely to rumble on, spreading as it does so. It is to be hoped that it spreads from RMT to Aslef, or at least to ASLEF members, following Merseyrail drivers’ lead. Real unity is needed in order for rail workers to defeat the bosses and the Tory government in their attempt to smash organised labour on the railway.