Rescuing Britain’s railways from the systematic failures of privatisiation will require strong, determinded and militant trade unions, writes MICK CASH
THE run-up to this year’s TUC Congress has been hectic for my trade union as we have fought a whole series of industrial battles up and down the country over systematic attacks on jobs, safety, pay and working conditions. While the long-running dispute on Southern over the attack on the guards has been centre stage, we have also mobilised and fought back similar attacks on ScotRail, Virgin Trains East Coast and Eurostar. Although action in those three campaigns is currently suspended, we have only been able to make progress through the militancy, determination and unity of our members and we remain vigilant for any signs of backsliding by the companies involved. But it’s Southern/Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) where the focus on the all-out assault on safety and the future role of our guards has been at its sharpest. You may well have used a Southern/GTR service to travel down to Brighton for this year’s Congress. If you did, you will have put your safety in the hands of experienced and committed rail workers who know more about delivering rail services to the travelling public than a whole carriage-load of government ministers and top departmental officials. Nothing rams home the madness of two decades of rail privatisation better than the continuing shambles on Govia Thameslink — Britain’s biggest rail franchise. The systematic failures on the GTR routes have turned Britain, the nation that gave the railways to the world, into a global laughing stock. The only surprising thing is that anyone still remains shocked at the tragedy that is being played out daily on our tracks. Less than 24 hours after new Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced a further £20 million of subsidy from the taxpayer to prop up Southern/GTR, the parent company itself confirmed that it had hauled in a 27 per cent increase in profits to a whacking £100m. RMT has rammed home the point that just a fraction of these subsidies and profits would be enough to guarantee a guard on every train, keep the train safe and resolve our long-running dispute with the company over the safety-critical role of our members. The public understand exactly where we are coming from, why we are making a stand in our campaigns over retaining the guards and just what is at stake for passengers and staff alike if we allow the cuts-bulldozer to run straight over us. Even Tory MPs on the GTR routes, bombarded with complaints from their constituents, have waded in, demanding that the company be stripped of the franchise. That is unprecedented. RMT is bringing the whole issue of public ownership of the rail and bus industries onto the Congress floor and we know, with the commitments from Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, that there has never been a better time to harness the 70 per cent of the public who back us on this fundamental issue. But at the end of the day we also know that the first line of defence is a workforce organised into a strong, determined and militant trade union. That is the case whether it be the Night Tube on the London Underground, Freightliner Heavy Haul, the shipping industry or the battle to fight the jobs and conditions assault in our offshore energy industry. That is why the Tories have cooked up the 2016 Trade Union Act. They have a simple objective and that is to use the law to effect a fundamental transfer of power against the working class and in favour of the boss class. They want to tighten the noose of the anti-union laws around our necks to the extent that we are so bound up in red tape and regulations that it is virtually impossible for us to move without being hauled into court on the most spurious of grounds. They aim to ban strike action by the back door and it will take a massive and co-ordinated response from across the labour movement to protect our members from this all-out assault. A major focus for RMT right now is the launch of our Save Our Seafarers “SOS2020” campaign. This initiative is designed to raise the plight of our maritime industry, and the repeated attacks on the workforce, right up the political agenda in a campaign that we can take out onto the streets and into our communities. The union is wholly committed to making this campaign a success and we know how important it is that we draw in support from right across the labour and trade union movement. We need that collective strength behind us and we are working on all available fronts to make that happen. We hope that you will be able to support us. So Congress meets at an absolutely pivotal time for our movement but with renewed and refreshed unity and determination across every community and every workplace we can come through with a string of victories under our belts and with the impetus we need to shift the balance of power away from austerity and towards working people. Mick Cash is general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers.