by Richie Venton, SSP national trade union organiser
The morning before the first 24-hour strike by Scotrail train guards/conductors in defence of public safety, a group of RMT union activists gathered outside Abellio’s Glasgow HQ. They brought their own table and chairs, and set it up outside the entrance to the Dutch state company’s offices – just in case the Abellio bosses found the time to stop telling lies and bullying workers in order to hold talks with the RMT to seek a solution to the dispute.
In vain! True to type, the profiteers blanked the union’s appeal for talks on their plans to extend Driver Only Operated (DOO) trains right across the central belt and beyond, thereby putting the travelling public at risk.
BOSSES BLANK THE UNION
Before, during and since the overwhelming vote to strike – including over the last week – Abellio’s Scottish chiefs have ignored calls for genuine negotiations. And when they’ve bothered to turn up to ACAS-sponsored talks, they’ve not even pretended to offer solutions. They’re clearly out to break the back of the union, abolish the safety-critical guards, and thus implement the aims of Driver Only Operations for the new fleet of electrified Hitachi trains, as they spelt out in a letter to all Scotrail conductors/guards in March.
After their attempts to bully workers into capitulating, Abellio bosses then responded to the huge RMT members’ vote to fight back by claiming they have no such plans for DOO! That the letter to all conductors was merely a discussion document.
This is a particularly bizarre claim, considering they’ve still not even opened up discussions with the main drivers’ union – Aslef – on the whole issue of DOO. If it was just an innocent ‘discussion document’, rather than a definite company plan, surely it would be common sense to ‘discuss’ the issue with the conductors’ union (RMT), but also the majority drivers’ union (Aslef)?
Of course it was nothing of the kind: Abellio are hellbent on trying to impose the plans for DOO that are there in black and white as part of the franchise agreement between them and Transport Scotland, the transport arm of the Scottish Government.
WAR DECLARED BY EMAIL
Now, to compound their dishonest twists and turns, Abellio Scotrail have sent out an email to all Scotrail staff – only a few hours before the first strike action – declaring their intention to introduce DOO!
After this saga, not even an infant fan of Thomas the Tank Engine would be naive enough to believe these charlatans in their claims to have no plans to remove or undermine the position of the safety-critical guards.
STRIKING FOR PASSENGERS AND DRIVERS’ SAFETY
RMT members going on strike are displaying a selfless commitment to the interests of passengers, and indeed to the well-being of train drivers.
They’re not in it for the money, or even th
eir own jobs – although it’s blatantly obvious that part of this government-driven exercise (via the franchise) is cost-cutting, whereby (at best) in the medium future lower-paid Ticket Examiners would displace the guards – and as numerous postings on social media have proven in recent weeks, trains running without even a Ticket Examiner would vastly expand in number. That is especially common later in the evening, when inspection systems are less rigorous, and drivers frequently face all the heavy burdens and responsibilities of dealing with everything – at precisely the time of day when, for instance, drunken or anti-social behaviour is more likely.
The RMT deserves the active solidarity of every trade union, every worker, every passenger.
The Scottish TUC, with 630,000 affiliated union members, has pledged support to the RMT’s opposition to the extension of DOO. Last autumn, the RMT and Aslef signed a joint statement of opposition to the extension of this unsafe system. The recent Aslef national delegates conference reiterated opposition to DOO.
ASLEF SHOULD JOIN THE FRAY
Now these statements need to be transformed into action. Drivers don’t relish the prospect of having to deal with a multitude of responsibilities to passengers and train safety, on top of the key task of safely driving. Aslef should respond to Abellio Scotrail’s latest unilateral declaration of intent to wipe out the role of the guard by preparing joint action with the RMT. Opening this second front would soon force Abellio bosses back down the track.
Likewise, the Scottish Government should rapidly, unequivocally declare opposition to DOO, fine Abellio for disruption to public transport services, and remove the franchise from them, announcing plans to bring Scotrail into public ownership.
FOR GUARDS ON ALL TRAINS
And in fighting to resist the extension of DOO trains across the network, the unions would win massive public support for also reversing previous DOO agreements – such as that in Strathclyde of near 30 years ago – demanding not only to Keep the Guard on the train, but get guards back on every train in Scotland.
This is an almighty battle for safety that can and must be won.