RMT and ASLEF members brought Southern rail services to a standstill today by taking united strike action against the planned removal of safety-critical conductors. The strike action follows months of negotiations with Southern Rail (a subsidiary of Govia Thameslink Railways) and the Department for Transport (DfT).
The rail unions claim that, in order to maintain a safe service on all trains, they have been left with “no choice” than to take strike action. This is backed up by the facts.
Even the Rail Safety Standards Board (RSSB), which is funded by GTR and other Train Operating Companies, recognises the increased risk to passengers on a Driver Only Operation (DOO).
The implementation of DOOs has a hidden political agenda as well – to smash the rail unions! Speaking at a public meeting in Croydon earlier this year, Peter Wilkinson, a senior DfT official, stated that
over the next three years we’re going to be having punch ups and we will see industrial action and I want your support.
He added that trade union members on Southern:
can’t afford to spend too long on strike and I will push them into that place. They will have to decide if they want to give a good service or get the hell out of my industry.
Discussions with GTR have hardly been more constructive. The bosses have continually lied to the public about maintaining two members of staff on every train – in meetings with the RMT, they have refused to guarantee this.
Attempts to get the government to help to resolve the dispute have also been ignored. Mick Cash, the general secretary of the RMT, states that:
the sheer pig-headedness of the company and the Government means that our members are being forced to take further industrial action in a bid to maintain a safe and secure service on Southern Rail.
Govia Thameslink and the Government have made it clear that they have no interest in resolving this dispute. RMT has called repeatedly for the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to get out of his bunker, get hold of the company and get round the negotiating table. He continues to ignore us.
Clearly the RMT and ASLEF have done everything in their powers to engage in reasoned discussion, but met with lies or worse, their only recourse has been strike action.
It is for these reasons that it is absolutely disgraceful to see London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan failing so abjectly to support the rail workers in their dispute. Echoing the words of the Tory PM Theresa May in parliament earlier this week, Khan called on the unions to “stop the strikes now and get back around the negotiating table.”
My message to the unions today is also clear: stop the strikes now and get back around the negotiating table. #southernrail
— Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan (@MayorofLondon) December 13, 2016
But should we really be surprised?
During his election campaign, Khan vowed to be “the most pro-business Mayor London has ever had”; stated his opposition to the “mansion tax”, the nationalisation of banks, and has pledged to work with the Tory government to defeat Corbyn’s push for a “Robin Hood Tax” – a fee on buying stocks, shares and derivatives publicly backed by the Labour leader last summer. Khan has also described the fact that there are 140-plus billionaires and 400,000 millionaires in London as “a good thing” – echoing the haughty words of the Blairite Peter Mandelson.
Khan’s association with the Labour right is nothing new either. In fact, it goes back to his election as Labour MP in 2005 – the same year that he became a patron to the Blairite faction of the Labour Party, Progress, the group responsible for organising attacks on Corbyn’s leadership.
This goes someway to explaining why, in 2006, Khan voted in favour of the pro-privatisation Education and Inspections Bill, which encouraged councils to pass schools from the hands of democratically elected Local Authorities into those of private sponsors. In 2008, why he voted to prohibit prison workers from taking strike action. Why he failed to oppose the Tories’ 2013 Workfare program, which was described by Dr Simon Duffy, the Director of the Centre for Welfare Reform, as a form of “modern slavery.” And why he voted in favour of the Tories Welfare Cap.
Workers in struggle, such as those in the rail unions, need representation in parliament. But this will never come from the pro-capitalist right wing of the Labour Party. If Corbyn’s Labour is to stand any chance of being elected in the future, the Blairites, who continue to drag Labour’s name through the mud, must be subjected to reselection contests.