The Socialist 5 July 2007 |
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Fighting a thousand cuts
Dave Reid continues his report from the AGM (conference) of rail union RMT (see earlier report).
The AGM agreed to campaign against the government decision to abolish Cross-Country train journeys. Under these plans, all Cross-Country train journeys will terminate at Birmingham New Street station where all passengers will have to change trains.
As well as interrupting train journeys, disturbing passengers' comfort and causing serious disruption for disabled and elderly passengers, hundreds of rail workers' jobs will be lost with the closure of Brighton and Preston depots.
As Gary Hassell from Brighton pointed out, the government is boasting that you will be able to catch a direct train from Barcelona or Munich to London but you won't be able to get a direct train from Brighton to Glasgow.
This crazy cut is on top of the other cut-backs in the rail service affecting rail workers and rail users. On Great Western Railways, buffet cars have been removed and replaced with trolleys.
But with train overcrowding, it is impossible for these trolleys to function at peak times. They are likely to make a loss, threatening even these services and jobs.
These attacks require a political as well as an industrial response and no delegate expressed any hope that Gordon Brown would improve conditions.
Political alternative required
Bob Crow, RMT general secretary delivered a devastating indictment of the Labour Party and scorned the possibility of resurrecting it as a workers' party. But he stopped short of proposing an alternative.
Thanking Labour left-winger John McDonnell for his work as head of the RMT parliamentary group, Crow said that John McDonnell had been sold out by the other union leaders who could have persuaded their sponsored MPs to nominate him for the Labour leadership ballot.
Of the 29 MPs who nominated McDonnell 18 were RMT-sponsored Labour MPs and the RMT is not even affiliated to the Labour Party.
Crow underlined how hated the Labour Party is by workers: "Any hope of the Labour Party working for workers is dead, finished, over. I think all you who are staying in the Labour Party are just giving credibility to it".
He also questioned the value of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) led by John McDonnell: "Of the three unions affiliated to the LRC, RMT, FBU and CWU, only one is affiliated to the Labour Party".
Crow warned that: "if the Trade Union Freedom Bill is defeated in parliament then we will have to look to find another route for political representation".
He underlined the need for the union to have a political alternative to Labour but he did not propose one, other than support for the National Shop Stewards' Network conference on 7 July.
Meanwhile transport companies are turning a blind eye to assaults. "The bosses seem to regard physical assaults on transport workers as part of our job" said Stephen Skelly, a guard on Arriva Trains Wales, "no-one should have to put up with physical injury and mental trauma at work".
Mickey Reed, an RMT member, was murdered at work in June on a Thames river boat after an assault by two passengers, both bankers. Incredibly they have been released on bail by the courts.
It is the employers who bear the major responsibility for the rise in assaults. Closing ticket offices and replacing them by ticket machines has significantly raised the number of penalty fares and placed rail workers in confrontational situations with passengers.
76% of assaults on London Underground staff take place in the ticket area. Train companies are forcing their workers to work alone in stations putting them at greater risk.
And having contributed to a rise in assaults, the bosses are failing to support their employees. In many cases they refuse to pursue cases of criminal assault or even to call the police.
In some areas the British Transport Police are quicker to respond to thefts from station shops than assaults on station staff.
Employers have often dropped action against violent passengers, especially the posher ones. They are even pressurising RMT members not to report assaults and verbal abuse and are making it difficult for RMT reps to support their members. They are loath to acknowledge that assaults have taken place at all because they want to refuse entitlement to sick leave.