Southern Railway RMT pickets at Victoria in London, June 2016, photo by Rob Williams

Southern Railway RMT pickets at Victoria in London, June 2016, photo by Rob Williams   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Socialist Party reporters

Services run by what workers are calling “Britain’s worst rail company” have again been hit by strike action in a long running dispute over plans to get rid of conductors and operate driver-only trains. Workers at Southern Railway, members of the RMT transport union, have walked out to oppose plans to introduce so-called “driver-only operated” trains across more Southern services, which the union considers a safety risk.

On 21 June, the strike was solidly supported by pickets across the network. Delegates from the annual conference of Unison joined an RMT demonstration outside Brighton station and Socialist Party members attended the picket line at Victoria station in London.

The company also faced customer protests as more than 100 people protested at Brighton train station on 14 June. The protesters brandished placards demanding improvements and calling for the Southern franchise to be stripped from Govia-Thameslink Railway (GTR) for repeated cancellations, delays and overcrowding. On Twitter they branded the operator “Southern Fail”. Some people were late for the protest due to delayed trains.

Some of the delays have been due to “staff shortages” but the RMT says GTR has cancelled trains when there have been full crews available.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Staff shortages are down to gross mismanagement of staffing numbers, rosters and diagrams by the company on this basket case franchise.

“Trying to lump the blame on hard-working, frontline staff, who take the full force of passenger anger for cancellations and delays, is cowardly and despicable behaviour.”

The boss of the controversial operator was recently awarded a £2.1 million pay cheque. This comes soon after GTR recently only narrowly avoided being stripped of the franchise after being found to technically be in breach of its licence. However, it avoided losing the operation after the government’s transport department agreed to reset operating targets.

ScotRail strike

RMT members at ScotRail/Abellio are taking strike action in opposition to driver-only trains. This strike shows yet again that it’s ordinary workers and their trade union that are putting safety before profit. After a 75% backing for industrial action in a strike ballot, you’d think bosses at ScotRail would have been prepared to seriously get round the table with the union. But ScotRail/Abellio management have behaved scandalously, attempting to bypass the union by resorting to social media and mailings in a campaign of misinformation with union members. In addition they also cancelled planned talks that could have allowed genuine negotiations to take place. As the RMT said: “Safety before profit delivers safe trains for Scotland’s people. The model that Abellio ScotRail want to follow delivers an unsafe method of operation for Scotland’s rail users. Indeed the whole project is about two things; 1) cutting ScotRail’s wage bill and 2) maximising shareholder profit.” The RMT members on ScotRail should be applauded for standing up and fighting for their and passenger rights and safety. Socialist Party Scotland calls for the ScotRail franchise to be taken back into public ownership rather than handed to Abellio, with profit going to shareholders rather than invested into the service.

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