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From The Socialist newspaper, 25 January 2017

RMT determinedly continues Southern strike

photo My another account/Creative Commons

photo My another account/Creative Commons   (Click to enlarge)

'Tom Woodcock', Train driver and RMT member

The RMT deserves its reputation as one of the most militant unions in Britain. Although drivers' union Aslef unfortunately suspend its three planned strike days on Southern Rail for talks with management, the RMT continued its action alone on 24-26 January despite only a minority of drivers being RMT members.

Scandalously, despite the negotiations involving Aslef being hosted by the TUC, the RMT, whose guards alone have taken 25 days of strike action, wasn't invited to the talks! The RMT pickets were successful in persuading many Aslef drivers not to cross picket lines, sending a defiant message to Southern Rail and their Tory government backers in a high-stakes battle for the union.

This current high profile battle has seen the RMT in dispute with the Tory government and their profiteering friends who operate the Southern Rail franchise for attempting to de-skill workers and de-staff trains through the expansion of 'driver only operation' (DOO).

At the same time RMT members have shut down most of London Underground during their campaign against job cuts. Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has joined with the Tories by publicly attacking these workers, calling their action "unnecessary" and congratulating scabs who crossed picket lines.

These two disputes have placed the RMT in the national spotlight once again and the union's effectiveness at bringing the capital to a standstill makes it a target for the Tories. Their new anti-union legislation has been formulated with effective and militant unions in mind.

But over the last two decades the union has grown from 50,000 to over 80,000 members largely due to the fact that workers will join a union if they see it is prepared to stand up to the bosses.

Industrial power

RMT Southern picket line at Victoria station, London on 24 January photo RMT

RMT Southern picket line at Victoria station, London on 24 January photo RMT   (Click to enlarge)

Therefore, the consequences of a defeat in the Southern Rail dispute would be a blow not only for the future of guards on trains nationally, but for the RMT's industrial power on the railway.

The RMT is primarily a transport union. The sections of its members with the most visible and far-reaching industrial power are those workers on London Underground, Network Rail and train guards (most train drivers are in Aslef). Around 70% of trains in Britain require both a driver and a guard to operate.

If Southern Rail, which has the government pulling its strings, manages to defeat the guards and remove their safety-critical role, it would mean that in any future strike trains could continue to run as normal (but less safely) with just the driver on board.

Furthermore it could set a precedent for the rest of the rail franchises which specify a conversion to DOO as they are renewed over the coming years. It may make the campaign to retain guards in those areas more difficult.

Unity of all rail workers is key to stopping job cuts and DOO - drivers don't want it, the majority of the travelling public don't want it. The heroic and determined RMT members at Southern have taken over 20 days of strike action so far in defence of jobs and railway safety. The Southern Rail bosses and the government can and must be defeated!

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