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From The Socialist newspaper, 13 February 2019

Heroic RMT guards beat back Northern rail in fight against dangerous driver-only operation

Northern Rail workers striking to save the guard, 19.6.18, photo Elaine Brunskill

Northern Rail workers striking to save the guard, 19.6.18, photo Elaine Brunskill   (Click to enlarge)

A Northern rail guard

After 47 days of solid and determined industrial action in defence of rail safety and jobs, a significant breakthrough has occurred in the fight to guarantee a guard on every Northern rail train.

Northern guards were set to strike for the 48th time when news filtered through that Arriva Rail North, the Department for Transport and Transport for the North had agreed a number of concessions.

They confirmed that, for the duration of the current franchise, every train will run with a conductor on board in addition to the driver. In addition, where new or modified rolling stock is being introduced, every train will continue to run with a conductor. The specifics of the operational models and the 'modernised' conductor role will, however, need to be negotiated.

This was a significant shift from the position put just before Christmas, when Arriva Rail North was attempting to force the transport union RMT into a so-called 'independent inquiry' on driver-only operation (DOO) - supported by the Chambers of Commerce and a Tory mayor!

The rail minister has now confirmed government support for a conductor on every Arriva Rail North train, as well as funding to ensure this will result in contractual changes to the franchise agreement. The rotten requirement to run at least 50% of train mileage on the basis of DOO has been scrapped.

This important win has been achieved through the determination and resolve of train guards across the north. There was no slow trickle back to work. The picket lines remained solid.

The financial hit to big business in the urban areas of the north has been significant. The strikes have had a serious effect on the local economy. Despite being inconvenienced, the travelling public has been fully supportive of us in our fight.

Naturally, the instinct of union members is to remain suspicious about the employer's intentions, especially with the key words "safety-critical guard" absent from the agreement.

Guard guarantee

The fact that the 'guard guarantee' only applies until the end of the franchise, and that we may face the same battles in a few years' time, is another concern.

There now needs to be a guarantee from the union negotiators that there will be no concessions agreed on pay, jobs or terms and conditions. Members' meetings should be organised to agree 'red lines' that shouldn't be crossed in the deal - and any proposed deal needs to be voted on by the membership.

Any erosion of our role and responsibilities will not be tolerated. The union's democratically agreed Train Crew Charter must be respected and upheld.

It is vital that guards retain door control and platform train interface responsibilities. The RMT has made it clear throughout the dispute that we would only negotiate on the 'conventional' or 'interim' operational models.

Our 'friends at the front' and drivers' union Aslef reps on Northern have repeatedly stated they will not touch the doors. Let the driver drive and the guard guard.

We've beaten back the rotten Tory government with that 'specialist in failure' Chris Grayling as transport secretary. He wanted to roll out DOO as the default operational model in order to increase profits for spivs and speculators, putting profit before safety.

Following the guards' victory, the German state-owned railway company Deutsche Bahn is looking to sell up its Arriva UK operations.

The begging bowl and bungs from the government can no longer prop up this basket case franchise. It's time to nationalise our railways and bring them under democratic workers' control and management to be run in the interests of the public not shareholders.

The RMT has now won concessions and agreements on Greater Anglia, Scotrail and Merseyrail. Despite the Tory anti-trade union laws - guards on the South Western franchise have just delivered another whopping mandate to keep up the fight against DOO. RMT members aren't going silently into the night. When we fight we can win.

All 1,400 heroic Northern guards can hold their heads up high for having fought for and retained a safety-critical conductor on all Northern trains. A true inspiration to workers and our class - solidarity!

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