RAIL UNION Aslef has announced that 87 per cent of its drivers at Southern Rail voted to strike. These strikes will take place in December and January, alongside an immediate and indefinite overtime ban. This is in addition to RMT strikes, on different dates, as guards continue their industrial action. Both unions are protesting the imposition of Driver Only Operated (DOO) trains.
Southern’s parent company, Govia Thameslink Railway, want to introduce DOO on all their services. Unions have campaigned vigorously against this, arguing that safety is being seriously compromised. With a huge increase in passenger numbers, there should be more rail staff, not less.
In the event of accidents, fires, derailments and emergency evacuations, the guaranteed presence of a second trained member of staff is paramount for passenger safety. Without this, disabled passengers will be especially disadvantaged, while anti-social behaviour will be unchecked.
However, Govia is driven by profit, not safety. It needs to defeat the unions to reduce staff numbers, and the Department for Transport is backing them up. DfT official Peter Wilkinson spelled this out earlier in the year, saying that highly indebted union members “can’t afford to spend too long on strike and I will push them into that place”. He added that they “will have to decide if they want to give a good service or get the hell out of my industry”.
The stakes are high. A victory for Southern bosses could see DOO wheeled out nationally. All the more reason for RMT and Aslef to coordinate their action. If two or three days of action are not enough to win, then they should move towards an all-out indefinite strike.
Rank and file rail workers should form joint strike committees and assert their control of this action, making sure their leaders are accountable every step of the way. And Labour Parties locally and nationally should be backing them on picket lines and handing out leaflets to long-suffering passengers to explain where the blame for their pain lies.