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RMT rail members buoyed by coordinated action
"Keep up the good work!"; "Don't let the bastards keep you down!" were some of the comments of people passing the RMT's picket line at Newcastle Central station.
RMT members across five train companies are striking against the introduction of Driver Only Operations (DOO). Guards deal with emergencies such as derailments, evacuations, fires, and driver incapacity. They are also invaluable to give help to passengers with disabilities and the elderly, ensuring the railways are accessible. They also provide a sense of security, especially for people travelling late at night.
At Newcastle one passenger told the BBC reporter that she was visually impaired and wouldn't go on a train without a guard.
Micky Thompson, RMT regional organiser, told the Socialist: "The mood amongst our members is good and the public are on board." He went on to say: "The [RMT] members are resolute and determined to win this dispute."
A poll of Northern Rail passengers found 75% of them would be concerned about their safety if the train no longer had a guard. However, greedy bosses are for more interested in profits than safety concerns.
The mood on the Newcastle picket line is that this is a strike that they can and must win!
In temperatures of -2˚c, RMT members were out in force at Leeds train station on the 14th day of strike action on Northern Rail, which was taking place as part of coordinated action across five train operating companies against the introduction of Driver Only/Controlled Operation (DOO/DCO).
Despite the chilly weather, the strikers were fired up and determined to win. Andy Budds, RMT executive member for Yorkshire & Lincolnshire told us: "The RMT membership is up across the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire region - this dispute has made us stronger as members can see our determination to keep guards guaranteed on every service in the region."
Other pickets told us they were equally determined to see this dispute through. The introduction of DOO/DCO would mean an uncertain future and the end of 'turn up and go' for many passengers with disabilities.
Even Tory transport minister Chris Grayling's latest 'offer' that current guards would still have a job in the next contract is not much - it could mean a zero-hour contract on minimum wage, as another picket told me.
RMT members will be out on Wednesday and Friday as well in their fight to defend the safety-critical role played by guards.
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party
The strike took place on Northern Rail in coordination with other train operating companies after talks broke down again between the RMT and Arriva Rail North, because the company still refuses to seriously negotiate on the future of the guards.
There was a big and lively picket line at Manchester Victoria with a mood of determination as the strike escalated to three days this week. Some drivers who are members of the union Aslef refused to cross the picket lines in Manchester and Wigan, which gave a great boost to those striking.
Passengers stopped to give support including some who were complaining about Arriva Rail North management 'blaming every problem on the RMT'. After the increase in fares this month, as well as supporting the RMT's fight to keep the guard on the train, many passengers also support the demand for renationalisation of the railways.
Basingstoke and Farnham
Determined RMT pickets were out across South Western Railway buoyed by strong support from passengers angry at fare increases this year and wanting to see guards on the trains they use.
Stand on a picket line for five minutes and you'll find out more than you will listening to the news or reading the right wing press. Guards in Basingstoke were keen to share stories of the regular occasions they have had to respond to unwell passengers, those with disabilities needing help on and off trains and times when guards have had to step in to protect passengers from sexual assaults. As Wessex regional RMT organiser Mick Tosh said, "How's an automated train going to help deal with those cases?"
Far from being only door operators and ticket collectors, guards are every day ensuring the safety of passengers on the railways. Despite all this evidence, one guard asked: "Why does the government want 1,000 people travelling on a train with only one member of staff who can't help them? You don't get that on the airlines or at sea. We're solid here at Basingstoke in support of this action."
Like everything else it boils down to profits. One of the pickets at Farnham explained: "Get rid of the guards and these train operators won't cut fares, will they? There's more public money going into the railways and we have less staff on stations, especially at night. How's that safe for travellers?"
RMT members understand that their union is the obstacle facing rail franchise managers and the government who want to see profits soar at the expense of safety. A picket at Fratton in Portsmouth said: "I've worked in the non-unionised private sector and seen what that means, zero-hour contracts, low pay and no training. Get rid of the guards and undermine our union and it'll be no different here. Managers say renationalising means going back to the dark ages of the 70s but at least we could afford a holiday then!"
It's no wonder RMT members and passengers are increasingly enthusiastic about Jeremy Corbyn's call to renationalise rail and seeing the back of this profit hungry Tory government.
The mood on the picket line at Birkenhead Central on the first day of the three days of action this week by RMT rail guards against Driver Only Trains was determined.
Aslef drivers on Merseyrail continue to support the guards and refuse to cross picket lines.
Concerns identified by pickets were safety and disability access issues; that it has become a political dispute driven by the government; and that profits go out of the country to the Dutch Rail firm.
Mick Cash, RMT general secretary has stated:
“RMT members remain solid and united in each of the separate disputes across the country. We have written to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling calling for summit talks under an independent chair to break the deadlock in these long-running disputes. It makes no sense at all that we have been able to agree long-term arrangements in Wales and Scotland which secure the guard guarantee.”
Mersey rail RMT members will be picketing the rest of the week on Wednesday and Friday.
Messages of support to: RMT North West, 2 Temple Square, Temple Lane, Liverpool, L2 5BB The financial support freephone helpline is 0800 376 3706 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Steve Ion, Wirral Socialist Party
Members of Harrogate Socialist Party visited the RMT picket line on their ongoing dispute over the issue of guards on trains with Northern Rail. All 11 RMT guards/conductors stationed at Harrogate were on strike. The picket was visited by the RMT assistant general secretary, Steve Hedley and the Leeds branch secretary, who came to show support and solidarity. The next strike is on Wednesday 10 January and the picket will be on from 7am to 10-30am. All support on the picket line is welcomed.
These reports were first posted on the Socialist Party website on 8 January 2018 and were added to on 10 and 11 January. The Socialist carried a shorter version.