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United fightback needed as entire grade of rail worker is at stake
Tom Woodcock, train worker and RMT member
The Southern Rail dispute has been a high-profile battle in which the future of an entire grade of rail worker is at stake. If Southern management is victorious, the traditional safety-trained guard, and most importantly the guarantee of a second member of staff on every train, will be gone from Southern trains.
Alongside increasing numbers of unstaffed stations we are now already in a situation where train travel is unattractive to disabled people, women travelling alone at night and other vulnerable people.
The government's programme to 'modernise' the railway will involve further major battles with the rail unions because workers will inevitably resist attempts to cut jobs, attacks on pay and conditions, and privatisation of Network Rail, which owns the rail infrastructure.
The 'McNulty report' which was commissioned by the last New Labour government recommends all of these things and forms the blueprint for the Tories' miserable plans for our railway.
On 6 March Martin Zee, a Merseyrail train guard, will be in court facing a possible prison sentence. He was involved in an incident where an elderly person was injured after falling onto the track while attempting to board his train. His employer launched a full investigation and found that he had done his job properly and he was exonerated of any blame.
How then did he end up in court? Because he is being prosecuted by the state under the Offences Against the Person act 1861. If he is found guilty each and every train guard and driver will risk prosecution each and every time they press the 'door close' button.
Merseyrail itself intends to switch to driver-only operation (DOO) just like at Southern. Transport union RMT is balloting its members in defence of the role of the guard at Merseyrail. If RMT is defeated and drivers have to assume control of train doors, members of drivers' union Aslef will potentially find themselves in the same situation as Martin Zee and facing time behind bars just for doing their job.
If we are to have a safe and reliable railway we need more fully trained staff, not fewer. But in the age of austerity the reality will be cuts in staff and an increase in casualisation to bypass the costs of hard-won rail workers' gains like the final salary pension scheme, sick pay, etc.
This is why we need a genuine united front against the employers and the Tory government. The rail unions share the same purpose: safe, secure and well-paid jobs for their members and a growing railway industry providing jobs for future generations.
In The Socialist 15 February 2017:
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