‘THERE are massive fights ahead as political and economic turmoil rages,’ the leader of the RMT railway workers’ union Mick Cash warned his union’s Annual General Meeting in Cardiff on Tuesday.
At the AGM, General Secretary Cash warned that ‘we can only win through the maximum solidarity and unity the length and breadth of the labour movement’. Cash said: ‘The labour movement faces huge challenges and the last thing that we need now is self-inflicted damage and division when we should be standing shoulder to shoulder to protect our members and their communities.
‘RMT is waging major industrial and political campaigns against attacks on rail safety and rail jobs and that is mirrored by our battles in the maritime, off-shore and road transport sectors. For thousands of our members those fights are about defending their very livelihoods and the future of the industries that they work in.
‘RMT continues to grow as a union and that is solely down to the fact that we are a democratic, fighting and campaigning organisation led by our members. We face tough times ahead but the union is geared up and is ready and equipped to deal with whatever is thrown at us.’
The union warned that the plan to bring the Office of Road and Rail (ORR) into the ScotRail guards dispute is fraught with conflict as the ORR is funded by the train and rail companies directly through the government itself. The Scottish Transport Minister wrote to the ORR on Monday asking for their opinion on Driver Only Operation (DOO).
But in a letter on Tuesday RMT reminded the Scottish government of who actually pays for the ORR as well as setting out a number of other core issues that the union believes that they should be seeking information on in relation to the safety critical role of the guard.
The RMT letter said: ‘Our view is that the advice you will receive from the ORR will be neither independent nor impartial. This is for the simple reason that the ORR is an arm of the UK government whose policy is to support Driver Only Operation and the ORR is also funded by Train Operating Companies who are also pressing for Driver Only Operations.
‘Notwithstanding the above you will know that Conductor operation guarantees passengers that a rail worker, in addition to the driver, will always be on the train to assist passengers including in the event of an incident or accident. Therefore we would be grateful if you and the ORR can provide passengers with straight answers to the following questions;
1. That there will be no increased risk to passengers in the event of an accident or incident when there is no longer the guaranteed second rail worker on the train to assist.
2. That passengers with disabilities who need assistance boarding or disembarking a train, particularly at unstaffed stations, or passengers who are threatened by anti-social behaviour will not be disadvantaged when there is no longer the guarantee of a second rail worker on the train to assist.
General Secretary Cash added: ‘It’s important that we destroy this myth that the ORR is an independent body. They are an arm of the Tory Westminster government funded by the train companies and rail operators.
‘It is a classic case of “who pays the piper, calls the tune.” The Scottish government need to widen the net in terms of who they take advice from on the safety-critical role of the guard. Those issues must include the growing dangers at the platform/train interface from overcrowding, the threats of abuse and assaults and general anti-social behaviour on our trains, disability access and the risks of trap and drag incidents and falls.
‘These issues should not be seen in isolation – the entire package must been seen in the round and not through the distorted eyes of the company-funded ORR. RMT will be making all of these points when we lobby the Scottish Parliament at 11.15am this Thursday (today).
‘The politicians should be listening to their guards who deliver safety and support for passengers at the sharp end and should not be taken in by the voices who are bankrolled by the train operators who want driver only operation for their own finance-led reasons.’
The RMT on Monday slammed the government after it emerged that the latest great rail rip-off is set to lose the taxpayer £10 billion. Research published by ‘We Own It’ shows that the Tory slash-and-burn sell-off of Network Rail stations, commercial property and other assets is set to rack up a net loss in fees and income of £10 billion over the next decade.
General Secretary Cash said: ‘RMT said all along that the sell-off of Network Rail assets was a grotesque false economy. This research proves that we were right. Only a fool, or someone with a twisted political ideology, would sell off our national rail assets at a loss. The Tories hit that mark on both counts. The flogging off of stations and infrastructure should be halted immediately.’
• The RMT was one of the first unions to come out in defence of the Corbyn leadership of the Labour Party when the attempted coup by right-wing Labour MPs got under way. Responding to the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn on Sunday, RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: ‘By peddling the ludicrous notion that Jeremy is somehow responsible for the EU referendum result, Jeremy’s critics are in fact insulting the intelligence of voters and in doing so further alienating millions of natural Labour supporters who are quite capable of making up their own minds and who voted for what they believed in.
‘After a divisive referendum, and with the Tories on the ropes, working class people want the Labour Party to unite and address their concerns. Instead, those attacking Jeremy risk plunging the party into civil war and handing a gift to the Tories.
‘Jeremy has renewed the faith that many rank and file trade unionists have in the Labour Party which is vital in helping Labour assist in maintaining and increasing support amongst its base. Trying to force him from office will weaken not strengthen the Labour Party.’