20 Days Remaining

Friday 17th
posted by Morning Star in Editorial

THE decision by Aslef members to reject a proposed resolution to the dispute with Southern Railways illustrates deep concern over Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) management’s motives and trustworthiness.

Aslef leaders were well aware before the ballot of the depth of feeling among their members.

Deputy general secretary Simon Weller himself forecast over a week ago that problems could arise from Southern workers’ distrust of GTR.

It could hardly have been otherwise since the company has worked hand-in-glove with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to implement driver only operation (DOO), dispensing with safety-critical guards as the second onboard member of staff.

The financial benefits for the company are self-evident, while Grayling is on a self-appointed mission to smash trade union opposition to DOO, having insisted on inserting new clauses in franchise agreements pledging financial compensation for losses incurred during strike action against its implementation.

He claims to know why Aslef and sister rail union RMT have been taking strike action on Southern and dismisses each of the Aunt Sallys that he puts up.

The only reason he does not confront is the key justification for industrial action — passenger and staff safety. Aslef members have now delivered their damning verdict on the formula thrashed out at Congress House.

This means, in Weller’s words, that “we still have a live dispute.”

Aslef has no obligation to hold a fresh ballot and could restart the action previously taken, but there is no indication yet as to whether the union leadership will reignite its strike programme or return to the negotiating table.

General secretary Mick Whelan has announced his understanding and support for the members’ democratic verdict and undertaken to meet their expectations.

There are many nagging questions that have been raised by rail trade unionists and further afield about the talks themselves, especially why joint talks with RMT, which organises the guards grade, were not pursued. Since both Aslef and RMT are TUC affiliates, and both unions’ members are affected by DOO, any proposed solution that did not involve both unions was always likely to founder.

RMT members have continued to carry out their own strike mandate to defend rail safety, which has won a great level of public approval since passengers understand that their lives and wellbeing are at stake.

Their next strike date is February 22, following the breakdown on Tuesday of RMT-Southern talks when the company rejected the union call to prioritise safety.

Cash’s demand that Southern accept the need for an onboard safety-critical staff member, as well as the driver, on all trains is unchallengeable.

His call for the company to agree to sit down to talk with the unions about safe dispatch of trains is reasonable and should be achievable.

Project fear

HOW can the government justify ongoing arms sales to Turkey, given its increasingly authoritarian nature?

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims to be rooting out supporters of last year’s unsuccessful coup, but his fire is directed at press and academic freedom, with hundreds of thousands of workers paying the price of suspected disloyalty by being sacked.

Erdogan is creating an atmosphere of fear to improve the chances of success for the referendum to bestow dictatorial powers on the presidency.

The European Union minimises criticism, seeing Erdogan as guarantor of its anti-refugee Fortress Europe, but the reality of his anti-democratic conduct must be exposed.

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