On the Picket Line

Rail workers in UK strike to defend jobs and safety

By Tony Hunt
December 30, 2019

Some 800 guards (conductors), members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, began a monthlong strike Dec. 2 against government and bosses’ attacks on their union and to defend jobs and safety for both rail workers and passengers. 

The workers’ action forced South Western Railway to cancel about half of their 1,700 daily, mostly commuter trains in and out of London. Rail bosses are organizing managers and administration workers as strikebreakers, carrying out the guards’ duties on some services. 

South Western plans to speed up trains by assigning drivers to close the doors at stations, eliminating the role of guards. Rail bosses say a second worker on the train will be responsible for checking tickets and answering questions from passengers. 

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union says it is safer to have a guard who decides when to close the train doors and depart from stations, as well as to deal with emergencies, leaving the driver to concentrate on operating the train. The union opposes the spread of Driver-Only Operation, which bosses have imposed since the 1980s on 30% of the rail network. 

A June 2016 report by the rail union details 10 serious accidents — eight that occurred on trains without a guard. 

Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson has attacked the strike, vowing to impose restrictions on rail workers’ right to strike.