Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/23672
RMT strike on Virgin Trains East Coast
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party
Fresh from attacking Jeremy Corbyn in the 'traingate' saga over the summer, Virgin Trains East Coast is attacking its staff in its profit-making interests.
It's widely believed that Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) over-bid to take over the successful publicly-run East Coast mainline service last year, after two prior failures of private operators to run the line. Now, losing as much as £1 million a week on running the service as a result, VTEC wants to make staff pay rather than hit its bottom line.
RMT pickets were out in force at Leeds train station on Monday, picketing all three major station entrances (and had picketed a fourth on the station's land until moved on by police). They were joined, as ever, by local Socialist Party members, assisting them in reprinting their leaflet which had been eagerly snapped up by commuters interested in finding out what the dispute was about and unsurprised at Branson's profiteering antics.
The RMT had previously suspended strike action planned for August, for negotiations to take place, but management had offered nothing new. On Monday, however, the managing director had been visiting picket lines, and no doubt is now at least well aware of the anger of staff about these proposals.
While further strike action may be necessary to force management back on its plans, the whole saga shows once again how private companies profit from providing rail services at the expense of staff and commuters.
Jeremy Corbyn was attacked by Richard Branson for demanding renationalisation of the railways. This cannot wait until the contract expires, but, as the RMT and the Socialist Party call for, the East Coast mainline service should be renationalised now, alongside the rest of the railways and public transport services. They could then be run as part of an integrated public transport service, under democratic workers' control and management.
The background to the dispute was explained in a RMT press release on 26 September:
The on-going dispute initially came to a head as the company chose to ignore the agreed negotiating machinery and subjected staff to a barrage of direct propaganda justifying attempts to bulldoze through a package of cash-led measures that would decimate jobs, working conditions and threaten the safety regime that currently ensures a guard on every train.
Nearly 200 jobs across the franchise are threatened by the cuts. Those staff remaining will be expected to cover the work of the deleted posts, piling intolerable pressure on all sections of the workforce.
RMT is aware of talk within the industry that Virgin/Stagecoach seriously over-bid for the East Coast franchise when the publicly-run service was kicked out despite being hugely successful.
It is thought that VTEC's incompetence means that they are losing a fortune every week and are now looking to hack back on the staffing budget to try to prop up their position.
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