Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 47 Number 1, January 21, 2017 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Movement

Struggle of Southern Rail Drivers and Conductors for their Rights and the Safety of the Public Continues

Train drivers working for Southern Rail had planned further strike action on January 24, 25 and 27 as part of their ongoing struggle for their rights and for public safety. Their union ASLEF has suspended this action with the agreement to have fresh talks on January 25. Meanwhile, the conductors' strike on January 23 is still going ahead, with the union RMT having requested to join the negotiations, but this request not yet having been met.

Support has been growing for the rail workers' actions, particularly since the massive increase in fares and further deterioration of the Southern Rail service. The intransigence of Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and his condemnation of the strikes have only added to the determination of and support for the workers. Jeremy Corbyn too has indicated that he would join pickets and called for public ownership of Southern Rail, a demand also made by RMT.

Southern Rail and the government are seeking to impose driver-only-operated trains. Southern Rail has become notorious amongst the privatised train operators in failing to provide an acceptable service to passengers, with a high proportion of cancelled and delayed trains with overcrowding.

People are dismissing the propaganda branding the drivers and conductors as holding the public to ransom. The travelling public is well aware of how Southern Rail claims its share of added value produced by its workers while absolving itself of responsibility to provide a reliable and acceptable service. There have been and continue to be protests pointing the finger at the company for its profiteering and at the government for its neo-liberal agenda in attacking public transport.

It is clear that the rights of the profiteering private rail franchise are trumping public right. What is becoming clear is the question of who is in control? The issue of control over public transport should shift to the users and those who work in the transport industry, particularly rail. There are many who are calling for public ownership and control. The independent voice of the working class is in the forefront of the demand for control.

The workers, their unions and their political representatives along with passengers are getting ever angrier with the government and the rail franchises. They want a decent, reliable and low-cost service as there are in other countries. Their demands are sure to become louder and unified action will escalate in the coming months, as will the movement for control.

It is the political act by the government to support Southern Rail that has exacerbated this trade dispute. The call to train operating companies to act collectively against unions will only lead to further disequilibrium by fanning the flames of strife.

The concern of the drivers and conductors for the safety of passengers if Southern Rail were to impose its axing of train conductors has been consistent in this dispute. Their consistent and determined stand has been key in forcing talks in conditions of attempted imposition with the full backing of the government on the side of the employers.

Justice is on the side of the workers and their demands must be met. WWIE calls on everyone to support the struggle of Southern Rail workers in defending their rights and the safety of the public.


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