SOUTHERN Rail services were hit by the first of five days of strike action yesterday as staff fought to defend passenger safety and jobs.
Members of transport union RMT are fighting to retain guards on board trains and defend the jobs of station staff which are vital for passenger safety.
The union offered to call off the strike if management agreed to a deal like that reached at ScotRail, which accepted their workers’ offer to suspend strike action providing the company retains guards on a new train fleet.
RMT said the offer was rejected on Friday during conciliation talks between the union and Southern operator Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) making the strike inevitable.
Hundreds of furious passengers have demonstrated against Southern’s chaotic management.
“I can report that the strike action this morning is rock solid across the Southern Rail network as we fight to put rail safety before the profits of the failed Govia Thameslink operation,” said RMT general secretary Mick Cash.
“This action has been forced on us by the arrogance and inaction of Govia Thameslink and the government who have made it clear that they have no interest in resolving this dispute or in tackling the daily chaos on Southern.
“Our fight is with the company and the government who have dragged this franchise into total meltdown.
“We share the anger and frustration of passengers and we cannot sit back while jobs and safety are compromised on these dangerously overcrowded trains.”
Mr Cash also slammed the “lies and smears” comingfrom management over the conduct of the strike ballot, which have been repeated by sections of the media.
He said the ballot turnout was over 80 per cent and 77 per cent of the union’s total membership at Southern voted to strike.
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: “It has become increasingly clear that the barrier to resolving the Southern-GTR dispute is the Tory government.
“We have a train operating company unable to make their trains run on time and a government prioritising a battle with trade unions over fixing a failing franchise, and it is the tens of thousands of passengers having to endure miserable services who are paying the price.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for Southern to be taken back into public ownership.
GTR claimed the strike was “completely unjustified.”