Monday, 19 September 2016


The courageous determination of ScotRail guards, who sacrificed 13 days' pay by striking for public safety, has won a clear victory in a deal which will now be considered by the national executives of both the RMT and ASLEF unions, with negotiators recommending acceptance. 

After prolonged talks with ScotRail Abellio bosses - latterly involving combined negotiating teams from both unions - the employers have massively retreated from their original plans to extend Driver Only Operated (DOO) trains across the Central Belt and beyond. 
The deal reached retains the fundamental role of the safety-critical guards. It comes nowhere near the bosses' and government's original plans to dump core safety procedures - door operations and train dispatches - on the driver. It is a substantial victory for strike action by RMT members. 

The Abellio bosses, driven by the franchise issued to them by the SNP government in October 2014, had hoped to get rid of the safety critical guards/conductors - and replace them with lower-paid, lesser-trained Ticket Examiners, who in at least 20% of cases are absent from DOO trains due to chronic staffing shortages. 
It was a case of cutting costs in the medium term, and to hell with the safety consequences. 

Contrary to any slick spin from Abellio bosses over the next 24 hours, we need to recall how they bullied staff; tried to bypass the union by use of social media and letters to guards' homes; refused to even meet the unions for weeks on end, let alone enter meaningful negotiations; conscripted management scabs to run trains at public risk; deployed fearful agency staff to hand out their propaganda; used a compliant capitalist media to belittle the role of guards and silence the workers' case from being heard and understood by the travelling public; threatened to use Westminster Tory anti-union laws against the RMT, to bludgeon their members into submission; and enjoyed the encouragement of the SNP government, whose Nicola Sturgeon also belittled the skilled guards' role, and the cause of the strikers, by echoing Abellio's contemptuous remarks about it being "all about who presses a button". 

The Abellio bosses - and indeed the Scottish government who spurned the chance to take our railways back into public ownership, and instead actively encouraged the Dutch state-owned franchise-holders to implement DOO - severely underestimated the passion for safety and principled courage of RMT members.
Strike action has forced through a deal that is overwhelmingly a success story for the solidarity of workers taking action. 
It will guarantee a guard on every one of the new electrified trains (EMUs) planned for next year. 
That guarantee will apply for the remainder of the Abellio franchise - and indeed beyond, with a pledge that it will be transferred over to any future franchise, through TUPE. 
Furthermore - and critically - none of these trains will be allowed to move without a guard on board, which prevents the government or ScotRail bosses using weasel words about 'a second crew member being scheduled' - but then not actually on board, as happens with at least one in five DOO trains right now, where the train moves whilst being literally driver only, without a Ticket Examiner on duty. 

The one area of concession by the unions is on operation of the train doors, but even on that the Abellio bosses have failed to fully get their way. They had intended that the driver would not only face the onerous task of driving, but would also be responsible for opening and shutting the doors, thereby making drivers in charge of train dispatches from stations, with all the huge risks to passengers that we've explained in previous articles and videos. 
But in the deal now being recommended by both the RMT and ASLEF negotiators, the driver will open the doors and the conductor/guard will close the train door, thereby retaining their vital role in checking for passengers' safety at the Passenger Train Interface (PTI). 

Compared with the current system that is a step backwards. It adds pressure to the driver; it increases the risk of trains stopping short on platforms (especially with the new, longer, eight carriage EMU trains) without the driver spotting the problem, which potentially could mean passengers spilling out onto the track. 
But with agreement that the guard will dispatch the train after safety checks at the station, and door technology that will help them correct mistakes by the driver on door controls, the most fundamental demands of the RMT strikers have been granted. That's a far cry from the original aims of the profit-driven Abellio bosses and Scottish government, to remove all control of the doors from the guards. 

This prolonged battle has shown the willingness of workers to take action if given a lead by their unions. It is to the eternal credit of those union activists who refused to just roll over and accept the DOO plans at the very start of the process. Their refusal to comply, or to just 'see how it goes', has been vindicated by the outcome. Above all, every one of the strikers who was prepared to put public safety top of the agenda, willing to lose wages in order to 'Keep the Guard', deserves the admiration and applause of every trade unionist, every passenger, every self-respecting worker. 

This successful workers' struggle should now be the launchpad for the ongoing campaign to make trains safe: to win back a guard on every train that was converted to a DOO train, in most cases over 30 years ago. To win investment in safe, comfortable, fully staffed stations. To halt the cuts to infrastructure jobs and ticket offices. And to further the struggle for democratic public ownership of the railways, so that safety is put before profit, passengers before shareholders, the millions before the millionaires. 
The Scottish Socialist Party is proud to have fought alongside these courageous fighters - and we will continue to do so in favour of a fundamental change in the type of society we live in. 

Tuesday, 6 September 2016


The battle to ensure public safety and job security on Scotland's railways continues, and the Scottish Socialist Party is determined to play its part alongside the rail workers' unions and passengers. 
The RMT union have called a major demo outside the Scottish parliament on 8 September, and a series of public meetings to acquaint the travelling public with the facts. 
The prolonged talks between ScotRail Abellio bosses and the two railway unions - RMT and ASLEF - have yet to reach an acceptable agreement on keeping the guards. Many workers are furious at the bosses' stalling tactics, and are willing to resume strike action if they don't rapidly offer an acceptable package that puts safety critical guards - not drivers, who should be left to drive - at the heart of train dispatch procedures, as demanded jointly by the RMT and ASLEF. 

Plague of Privatization 
Every event surrounding these issues proves that the plague of privatization and profiteering is totally incompatible with public safety and people's jobs being secured. In battling shoulder-to-shoulder for safety alongside railworkers and their unions, the SSP is arguing for democratic publIc ownership and control of the railways - and transport in general - as the only route to guaranteed investment in safety, instead of the big business racketeering and chaotic fragmentation of the railway system under privatization. 

Public Funds Bail Out Profits 
Perhaps the worst current example of how profit threatens safety and rips asunder public services is that of Southern railways - the busiest lines in the whole UK. Under privatization, French-owned Govia has the franchise, and has caused absolute mayhem and meltdown for passengers, whilst treating their staff like slaves to be punished for daring to stand up for public safety. When train drivers took industrial action to stop the company breaching safety agreements, they plundered about £250,000 from ASLEF through the capitalist courts, and seized drivers' mobile phones to gather evidence of orchestrated industrial action, whilst robbing them of their staff travel concessions. 

Reward for Failure
Hot on the heels of this, the same profit-crazed bosses have tried to bypass the RMT and brutally enforce Driver Only trains - removing the safety-critical guards. And just to rub salt into workers' wounds, this week the same company announced a phenomenal 27 per cent rise in their profits - to £99.8million for the year up to July. That's from revenues rising to £3.4billion. 
In case anyone dares get angry at this profiteering by a company that has made failure to deliver its watchword, its chief executive, David Brown, has generously waived his annual bonus and this year's salary increase. Before you forgive this benefactor, we should add he took home a humble £2.16million last year! 

Not content with this thick slice of profit, Govia's political puppeteers - the Tory government - had made their very own announcement regarding Southern railways... literally the day before. They declared that £20million of taxpayers' money was to be taken from government-run Network Rail's budget and thrown into the bottomless pit that is Govia-run Southern railways! An obnoxious example of workers and passengers bailing out the profiteers, after they've made the service a bitter laughing stock, at home and abroad. Reward for failure; propping up the profiteers at public expense. 

Capitalist Chaos on Railways 
This capitalist chaos on the railways - with the drive for profit threatening public safety and robbing both railworkers and passengers - applies across the UK, including Scotland. And all the pro-business, mainstream political parties prefer and perpetrate this profit-driven chaos; the Tories, LibDems, Labour and indeed the SNP. 

The roots of current battles to keep safety critical guards on our trains, and to stop cuts to station staff, ticket offices, signaling and track maintenance, go back to the McNulty Report of May 2011. 
This cringingly titled Rail Value for Money Study was commissioned by the Labour government of Blair and Brown - who retained Tory rail privatization throughout 13 years of Labour governments - but published and enthusiastically embraced by the subsequent Tory/LibDem Coalition. 
As the late, socialist RMT leader Bob Crow wrote at the time:

"The basic message of the McNulty report is that rail workers and passengers are being asked to pay the price of privatization. The multitude of private competing interests who make up our fragmented industry are not only let off the hook, but are given even more powers. The report is far from independent. It is based on the same crackpot ideology that led to the original privatization of our railways."

McNulty: Right Diagnosis, wrong Medicine
Sir Roy McNulty utterly ignored the damning evidence against privatization that his own study unearthed. For instance, that (by 2011) privatization had massively escalated costs of running the network, requiring three times as much public subsidy as under previous nationalisation; costing three times as much to run; being 30% less efficient than the railways in other European countries. In large measure because the latter are mostly state owned, and don't suffer the plague of scores of competing profiteers, each requiring their own dividend payouts to shareholders, individual borrowing costs, and chaotic lack of coordination - with a whole system of fines and incentive payments that are often contradictory, for instance between Network Rail and train operating companies. With train operators (TOCs) vying with rolling stock providers (ROSCOs) which lease them the trains, and a myriad system of payments between Network Rail and these, money ripped out of the labour of rail workers and passengers' fares has poured out of the industry into the coffers of numerous franchise-holders. 

Annual Waste of £1.2billion 
A full five years ago, in 2011, an RMT-commissioned study showed that £1.2billion a year was wasted this way. That's £1.2bn that could have been invested in track maintenance; new rolling stock; longer, faster and greener trains to match the rocketing number of passengers; safe, friendly, fully-staffed stations and ticket offices; and extension of safety-critical guards on every single train in the land. 
But that would have required coordination, rational planning, and a system driven by public need not private greed; it would need renationalisation of the entire railway network, with a democratic system of working class control and management. 
Instead of that, we've suffered the consequences of privatization before and since the McNulty report - a document which scorned the option of an integrated public rail network, and instead made many of the proposals for savage cuts and assaults on safety that are being rammed through right now, five years on

Passengers Suffer from Privatization 
Passenger numbers have rocketed since the mid-1990s; even by the time of the 2011 McNulty report, by 59%... and trains are even more overcrowded now. 
In Scotland, passenger journeys have exploded by 35% in the last 10 years, to 93 million a year. But rolling stock has lagged drastically behind the booming numbers of passengers. For instance, a recent report showed only one new seat on Scotland's trains for every 3,300 extra passenger journeys over 10 years! 
Fares have leapt up to the dearest in Europe - 30% higher than the average in Sweden, France, Switzerland and Holland (homeland of Abellio!), for instance. 

The McNulty plan for savage cuts earmarked 35% of all 'savings' to come through staff cuts. And the government and myriad competing train profiteers have gone about this business like demented axemen, with rampant closure of ticket offices, cuts to station staff, reduction of infrastructure and maintenance crews, and concerted removal of guards - one thing the rival train companies certainly agree on and coordinate their plans for. 
In the case of Scotland, successive franchise-holders - First Group and Abellio - have been hellbent on extending Driver Only Operations (DOO). In this they are carrying out the explicit aims of the McNulty report to the letter : 
"The default position for all services on the UK rail network should be DOO, with a second member of train crew only being provided where there is a commercial, technical or other imperative." (McNulty, May 2011)

SNP Implement McNulty 
But here's the rub: McNulty was a Westminster plan, initiated by New Labour, pursued by the Coalition and Tory governments with crazed zeal. However, transport is a devolved issue in Scotland, with control in the hands of the Holyrood government - the SNP government, elected on claims to be anti-austerity and to be 'Stronger for Scotland'. 
Which Scotland?! The Scotland of ScotRail workers and working class people relying on a cheap, integrated, safe rail service? No, by their deeds, the SNP have imitated the actions of other pro-big business parties when it comes to the railways.

As far back as May 2012, under Alex Salmond's government, the Scottish parliament's Infrastructure & Capital Investment Committee left us in no doubt about their intentions - probably feeling secure in the knowledge the general public wouldn't read such a document! They stated, in black and white:

"We heard ideas that Transport Scotland could use to ensure that efficiency savings recommended in the McNulty Report are realised... Passengers care little about how the franchise is run... paving the way towards meeting the targets recommended by the McNulty Review...".

So instead of using the powers already devolved to set a clear, inspiring example of what Scottish independence could deliver regarding rail services, the SNP grabbed onto the poisoned plans of McNulty and sought to implement them.

Government Behind Abellio Bosses 
Of course some welcome investment and improvements have been implemented. But not a finger has been lifted by the SNP to remove the profit motive from the service, despite all the evidence in favour of public ownership that McNulty's research inadvertently provided. 
Instead of ScotRail being taken into Scottish government control in 2014, the SNP handed it over to Dutch government control, via the Dutch state-owned Abellio. And just to prove their zeal for McNulty, the Transport Scotland arm of the SNP government insisted on extension of DOO as a clause in the franchise awarded to Abellio. 
It's the hand of SNP government that lurks behind the cost-cutting crusade to get rid of guards, regardless of the cost to public safety. It's only the courageous strike action by the same guards that has stayed the hand of the butchers. 

Literally Driver Only!
Alongside that, the Scottish government has turned a blind eye to trains running literally driver only - without even a lower-paid, lesser-trained Ticket Examiner on board. 
During the RMT strikes, the government and Abellio were quick to endlessly repeat that 57% of ScotRail trains are already DOO. But whilst there are 600 guards on the minority share of trains, there are only 300 Ticket Examiners employed to staff the 57%! It doesn't take a Maths degree to spot that means there aren't even enough Ticket Examiners to ensure one on every DOO journey.
Monitoring by drivers in recent months proves at least 20% of DOO trains run without even a second crew member - with all the horrendous potential safety consequences.

Alongside that, by the SNP government's own admission, 70 per cent of all Scotland's stations are totally unstaffed. That's a factor behind several heartbreaking incidents of disabled people being left stranded on the station at night, with no station staff, or guard, or Ticket Examiner to help them. 

Safety Demands Public Ownership 
The SSP strongly supports the rail unions' campaigns to ensure safe trains. We call for every one of the current 600 guards' posts to be retained, undiluted, with full control of train dispatch. We demand that safety-critical system be extended to a guard on EVERY train, including those converted to DOO in times of much less jam-packed trains 30-plus years ago. 
We want every station to be staffed, with a ticket office, and provision for passenger comfort and safety. We call for full investment in infrastructure and maintenance. 
And the SSP goes even further than opposing the crucifying fare increases used to fuel privateers' profit: we campaign for an integrated, fare-free public transport system, a measure to combat poverty and pollution, a policy that would generate vast numbers of new and skilled jobs for this and future generations.

SSP Track Record 
Railworkers and passengers alike should study the track record of the pro-capitalist parties - regardless of the colour of their rosettes at election time - in contrast with that of Scotland's socialist party, the SSP. 
The first set stands up for profit through privatization, with horrendous safety consequences, and rampant waste to the public purse. In stark contrast, the SSP campaigns tirelessly for democratic public ownership of our railways and wider transport services, to ensure investment in people's needs and safety - as part of the broader aims we share with the RMT union Rule Book, which declares, "for the supercession of the capitalist system by a socialistic order of society". 
Join us in that struggle: your safety, security and environmental well-being is at stake. 

Monday, 5 September 2016


As 2,500 Further Education support staff take their first ever national strike action for fair pay, figures in a recent report commissioned by their own union, UNISON, show that workers across Scotland's public sector have suffered a real pay cut of 10% since 2009. And in the private sector it's been even worse: a 13% fall in real wages.

These UNISON members have resorted to strike action because at meetings of the newly-established national negotiating forum for all 20 FE colleges - itself the product of the FE lecturers' victorious strike earlier this year for national pay parity - college bosses have failed to shift towards fair pay. 
Whilst conceding £450 to lecturers after strike action in March, college bosses on salaries close to or exceeding that of the First Minister have only offered £230 to support staff - who include admin, admissions, technicians, cleaning and catering staff.

'Our Demands are Simple and Fair'
As Chris Greenshields, chair of UNISON's FE sector committee explained:
"Our demand is simple and fair. Pay college support staff the same flat rate rise of £450 that you gave to our teaching colleagues.
"We work for the same colleges, help deliver the same courses, support the same students and deserve the same cost of living increase."

These low-paid workers deserve widespread support as they struggle to pay the bills.
And they're part of an army of workers drowning in a sea of poverty pay. The recent study commissioned by their own union, UNISON, proved that if wages in Scotland had even stood still, rather than fall by an average 12% across all sectors since 2009, an additional £11.6billion would have poured into the Scottish economy.
And £3.6billion extra would have come into government revenues, plus a saving of £240million made on in-work benefits.

Workers' Pay Plummets - Bosses' Salaries Skyrocket 
The Scottish government needs to properly fund Further Education, a sector jam-packed with working class people seeking to improve their lives and livelihoods.
The one area of savings that could be afforded is not real-time wage cuts to ordinary workers, but a cap on the salaries of college principals.
Whilst college support staff are driven to strike for a miserly £450 lump sum, bosses last year earned from a 'rock bottom' £68,611 at West Highland college, to a sky-rocketing £153,000 at City of Glasgow college. It's outrageous that these bosses are often on ten times the wage of the lower-paid college staff. Not for them the 12% cut in real wages suffered by Scotland's workers since 2009!

SSP Demands £10 Minimum Now! 
The SSP stands in full solidarity with these college staff - and all low-paid workers. And our ongoing campaign in the unions and on the streets for an immediate, legally enforced living minimum wage of £10 an hour for all at 16, with equal pay for women, would transform the lives of hundreds of thousands. Not to mention its advantages to the wider economy, as UNISON's research helps demonstrate.