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Guards continue fight against driver-only operation following Merseyrail victory
Guards on Merseyrail have struck a blow against driver-only operation. The workers in the RMT union have forced the company to commit to keeping guards on trains after a long-running series of strikes.
Inspired by this success, guards on other networks have continued their action to keep a guaranteed second, safety-critical member of staff on trains.
The long-running dispute on South Western Railway continued on 31 August as RMT strikers escalated their action to a three-day strike.
In Bournemouth the strikers remained resolute. There was a determined mood to stay strong and united.
Morale among the strikers was still high. The guards said they were still getting a lot of support from rail passengers.
Guards are needed on all trains and it was emphatically stated that this is a line that cannot be crossed.
Pickets explained that negotiations have taken place on a number of occasions without arriving at any agreement. South Western Railway won the franchise from South West Trains in 2017.
One difference in the bids was the fact that only South West Trains included guards on the train. There is speculation that this is one of the reasons they lost the franchise.
There is a clause in the contract saying that, at the discretion of the secretary of state, the rail company can seek financial remuneration for losses incurred during industrial action.
The company must be able to prove that they have been exhaustive in their efforts to resolve the dispute.
The question then arises that some of the talks at conciliation service Acas could be as a result of the rail companies wishing to fulfil this criteria, rather than properly seeking to resolve the dispute. If payments are made, the financial burden ends up falling on the taxpayer.
At Fratton station in Portsmouth, the mood of the guards was determined. News of the ending of the dispute on Merseyrail, which means guards will remain on trains, could be a confidence boost as RMT members are forced by Tory anti-trade union legislation to re-ballot after six months in dispute.
Management are refusing to talk, holding out until the ballot closes in the hope that the 50% turnout threshold needed for a successful Yes vote is not reached.
The guards are doing everything to make sure the 50% is beaten, forcing management back to the negotiating table.
The guards will be out again at Fratton station and across the South Western Railway network on 8 and 15 September.
Speaking to RMT members in Newcastle who took their 25th day of strike action against driver-only operations on 1 September, one of the strikers commented that Merseyrail deciding to keep guards on their trains has given the workers on Arriva Rail Northern "confidence that there are deals out there".
However, there was also a cautionary air, as Merseyrail has said it can only finance keeping guards on the trains by putting up fares and talk about 'conductors' productivity' (code for and conditions).
There was recognition on the picket line of the need to renationalise the railways, and all other public utilities.
The strikers are clearly geared up for a battle. One of them said: "This is an ongoing dispute, and we're all determined to see it through."
They have also had their confidence boosted by the amount of support they are receiving from passengers "who understand this is all about putting profit before safety".
The strike is set to continue every Saturday in September. Messages of support to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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