Striking train drivers bring the Southern network to a halt.
Members of the Aslef union walked out for 48 hours. A further 24-hour strike is set for Friday. About 300,000 passengers usually travel on 2,242 Southern services every weekday.
It is about whose job it should be to open and close the train doors, but this is the first strike by Aslef drivers.
The Government has no legal argument to halt this dispute but are openly entertaining the idea of changing the law to ban rail strikes.
The general secretary of the Aslef trade union, Mick Whelan, said the strike was a response to what he called “ill conceived” changes “fraught with danger”.
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald has accused the government of attempting to “pin the blame” for its own incompetence on trade unions.
Mick Whelan said:
“We have a trade dispute with GTR Southern, and only a poor government would seek to spin it any other way.
“We were willing to go to ACAS last week but GTR Southern refused because they wanted to go to court.”
The RMT has staged strikes since April over the changes to the role of conductors and is also planning further stoppages either side of Christmas.
The latest action closed most Southern routes.
On Monday, the Court of Appeal rejected an appeal by Southern’s parent company Govia Thameslink Rail (GTR) to halt the action.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has repeated his offer to put Transport for London (TfL) in control of Southern rail and other commuter lines, saying passengers had been “abandoned by the government”.
In a nutshell, the strike is about about safety rights and jobs.
Southern wants to bring in something called driver-only-operated (DOO) trains where the driver, rather than the conductor, opens and closes the doors. The on-board conductor/guard has a much better view of the doors and can stop people getting trapped. Passengers do not want to see these people removed. They have a right for them to stay in place as much as the workers have a right to be there.
Southern says no-one will lose their job, or take a pay cut. Yet everyone knows that moving the labour will only be a temporary measure for future cuts to take place. By saying it frees up workers to help passengers is a fraudulent claim. It is clear that the company wants to reduce labour by asserting workers are a “cost”. How can these workers be a “cost” if they effectively are better placed to ensure the safety of other workers, travelling to and from work. Obviously better placed than the technology or relying on drivers, who have enough to do in driving the train and to be responsible to “monitor” from their cabs.
The employers, backed by Government, are clearly putting profit before safety. They clearly don’t care about the workers they intend to make redundant, treating them like commodity. As the unions have pointed out, these private franchises need reminding that cuts to jobs that jeopardise safety lead to accidents like “Potters’ Bar” where many workers who were passengers died. How then can we expect people to believe that safety operatives do not add value when so much value is at stake?
The whole point of Public transport, as a service, is that it is effective and safe.
According to the media, “Whatever happens here will be reflected in future franchises as they take delivery of new, driver-only-operated trains”. It is clear that they want only the interests of buyers and sellers profitability to be considered. So is this not the reason behind the Public and Trade Union demand that the entire railway service should be Publicly owned and controlled and not put into private hands?
Clearly justice is on the side of the workers and their demands should be met, receiving the support for a new publicly controlled future for the railways and the rights of all.
Southern planned rail strike dates
00:01 Tuesday 13 December to 23:59 Wednesday 14 December (Aslef)
00:01 Friday 16 December to 23:59: Friday 16 December (Aslef)
00:01 Monday 19 December to 23:59 Tuesday 20 December (RMT)
00:01 Saturday 31 December to 23:59 Monday 2 January (RMT)
00:01 Monday 9 January to 23:59: Saturday 14 January (Aslef)