Solidarity And A Bold Leadership Needed

THE THREAT to sack striking train workers at South West Trains (SWT) by Brian Souter is the most serious development for trade unions in the last decade.

Souter, billionaire owner of Stagecoach, which in turn owns SWT as well as many other transport companies, is a man who has jumped on the band wagon of many anti-working class and reactionary social issues over the last few years.

He spent at least £2 million on a referendum in Scotland against the repeal of the infamous Thatcher-inspired Section 28 by the Scottish parliament.

He has taken over many bus routes in Britain by ruthless use of his monopoly power over other bus companies. He has driven down the wages and conditions of tens of thousands of bus workers by breaking up national pay agreements set by the TGWU since the 1950s.

Souter has used all the anti-union laws available to him against unions in dispute after dispute and now he seems intent on leading the charge by the capitalist class against the well-organised rail union RMT.

As Greg Tucker indicates in this week’s The Socialist, the only way a “union free” SWT could be run, would be for the government to give the okay to the rail inspectorate and the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) to ignore the safety repercussions of a rail system run by untrained managers and scabs brought in from the street.

The bosses don’t give two hoots for safety if it interferes with their profits. The terrible crashes of Hatfield, Ladbroke Grove and Southall show what could happen if they succeed in smashing the RMT.

Railworkers and their unions stand for a fully safe rail network. The New Labour government like the Tories before them will ignore safety laws in their efforts to smash the power of the unions.

Before the next round of strikes, not just on SWT but Arriva, Connex, Silverlink and others, the RMT leadership will have to face up to train drivers in ASLEF, and some in the RMT, driving trains on strike days staffed by Brian Souter’s “strike breaking” force of managers.

If SWT bosses get away with it then other rail bosses will do the same on the rest of the system.

Mick Rix, general secretary of ASLEF, says he supports the RMT. Well the best way of doing that is to instruct his members not to drive any train that is staffed by scabs.

The rail bosses claimed they were able to run 600 of the normal 1,700 trains on the last two days of strike action. This is no doubt management propaganda, but to stop this becoming a reality the rail unions must step up action by organising an all-out strike across the system.

If the bosses attempt to replace strikers with a scab workforce (they can legally sack them after eight weeks of the dispute) then the whole trade union movement should be mobilised. The entire rail system should be closed down, including London Underground.

The TUC is playing a despicable role, with secret meetings involving government ministers preparing to back the bosses.

The RMT should go over the heads of the TUC and make a direct appeal to trade union members to come to the aid of the rail workers.

The stage is being set for a mighty struggle. Perhaps not yet on the lines of the 1970s, but the issues are the same – solidarity with those in struggle and the need for a bold union leadership.