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Rail strike victory
DRIVERS FOR for Connex South-East railways have won a stunning victory. The drivers, members of rail union ASLEF, forced the employers to concede most of their demands after just one day's strike action.
Bill Mullins, Socialist Party Industrial Organiser
The bosses had refused to accept train safety was at risk because of the long hours most drivers were forced to work.
The union demanded a 35-hour week, but the bosses attempted to drag out negotiations. Now the working week will be cut to 36 hours from October and 35 hours from the autumn of 2001, with 80 new drivers.
Since privatisation, the rail bosses have used voluntary redundancies to get rid of the old safety-conscious British Rail workers. Their plan was to bring in younger drivers who would only have loyalty to the company and its profits.
This backfired. 100% of the drivers took strike action and the bosses' plans to use scabs failed.
Many passengers supported the strike, understanding that drivers are working excessive hours just to keep the trains running.
Connex was notorious for its hard-nosed anti-union attitude. Now other bosses worry if Connex could be forced to concede then who else will stand up to the union?
George Muir, director general of the Association of Train Operators complained to the Observer that ASLEF is stronger now than it was under British Rail. "It's a very centralised unified union, stronger now than before privatisation".
What he means is that with over 20 operating companies and dozens of others now involved, it is very difficult for the bosses to show a united front to the unions.
Behind the scenes New Labour spokesmen are mumbling about changing the law to lift immunity from the rail unions to allow the bosses to claim full commercial costs from the unions when they call strikes. This would take the unions back to before 1906 when the courts were used to try and break them.
But the press has been very quiet about the outcome of the strike, afraid that it would encourage other workers to take action. The drivers' victory is a portent of what could happen in many other industries and services.
· In 1995 there were 17,500 drivers on the rail system, by the end of 1998 this had fallen to 14,000, at the same time passenger traffic increased by 8% per year.
· ASLEF reckons at least another 600 drivers are needed to reduce overtime.
· Renationalise the railways under democratic workers' control and management, with an investment programme to improve track and rolling stock and train new drivers.
In The Socialist 4 February 2000: