Profits Before Safety: RMT Strike To Protect Passengers and Staff

Ryan Aldred interviewed an RMT official about RMT’s decision to take 48 hours of strike action

Why have RMT members taken strike action?

This dispute has arisen over concerns surrounding the issue of new trains which First Great Western (FGW) and the RMT have been in talks over for two years. Staff working at stations and maintenance staff are likely to be withdrawn. Moreover, it is likely that the buffet car will be removed in favour of a buffet trolley which will mean a reduction in staff and a worsening of services provided.

Also, it seems that the role of the train guard is being withdrawn from London to Wales and the South West which means that trains will be Driver Only Operated. This means that rather than a guard being responsible for the train leaving the driver free to drive the train, the driver will have to take sole responsibility for the train.

This would require ensuring that trains depart from platforms safely with no assistance from staff on the platform and the driver taking sole responsibility for passenger safety in the event of an accident despite the driver being most at risk. These changes would jeopardise passenger safety and because of this RMT has balloted members working for FGW and has seen resounding support for strike action so members have taken 48 hours of strike action followed by 24 hours of action short of strike.

What has the mood been like among strikers?

The mood has been very good. Both old and new members are taking part and taking lead roles with many members taking strike action for the first time. Members were employed to do a job and we won’t accept FGW changing terms for worse service. So far there have been two meetings since the ballot and at every stage the company refused to meet our demands. Our members feel that these are not too much to ask when East Coast Trains have met these demands and have the same trains. If these concessions are acceptable for East Coast to offer their staff it should be good enough for FGW staff as ultimately it is the passengers that would have to endure worse service and increased risk to safety.

What has support from the public been like?

The public have been overwhelmingly on our side as they are concerned about the prospect of a worse service. FGW have promised more customer facing staff but we are seeing more staff being removed from customer facing roles which will eventually lead to a faceless railway. Even some MPs have felt the pressure and have come out in support of this strike action as the wider public are hugely in favour of passenger safety over profiteering.

Are RMT members prepared to take further action if necessary?

Further action is being looked at after the 48 hour strike and overtime ban has taken place. Members are prepared to take further action but we are open to talks with FGW to try and resolve this matter. We don’t want members to lose money but we have had to take this decision to protect the safety of passengers as well as ensuring the job security and safety of staff. Our members were employed to do a job, they cannot have their terms changed at the bosses’ whims

Our demands to FGW are:

We want a guard on all services to ensure passenger safety

Retaining role of dispatch staff to ensure safety of passengers making their way from the platform to the train as well as ensuring safe train departures

Buffet service to continue to be offered from a buffet car as preferred by customers rather than a buffet trolley which won’t work in busy times

TUPE all in house fleet maintenance staff to Hitachi who will have sole responsibility of keeping fleet serviced and maintained

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  1. Great interview and article Ryan have you shared this with NSSN, SP and TUSC groups, pages and websites? The workers voice should be heard far and wide to counter all negative and reactionary views that seek to attack them for their actions.
    Good work Comrade.

    • I haven’t yet but I shall do. Thanks Declan. By the way will you be at the CWI school this year? I’m keen to hear what the mood among workers is in Greece. I would hope it’s one of outrage and determination to organise but Tsipras’ betrayal could just as easily lead to despair.

      • Unfortunately, I can’t be with you at CWI School as will be in hospital receiving treatment. I echo what you said exactly, I am desperate to know what the workers in Greece think.
        I hope to catch up with you another time though Ryan, until then keep up the good work.
        Solidarity Brother!

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