‘THIS is an industrial dispute about safety, we are not trying to bring the government down,’ RMT general secretary Mick Cash insisted yesterday.
He was responding to calls in the Tory press for PM Theresa May to ban strikes in essential services. In a BBC interview, Cash said of this week’s Southern guards strike: ‘It’s not about jobs, it’s about safety.
‘The norm in the industry is to have a guard on every train. We’ve done deals this year in Scotland, where we’ve kept a guard on every train, we got a deal on East Coast Trains to keep a guard on the train, we got a deal on Great Western to keep,a guard on the train.
‘The norm is actually to keep a guard because it’s safer and it’s more efficient and it’s better for passengers.’ He was asked: ‘To what extent is your union involved in a coordinated effort to create social problems, even economic damage, according to some reports in the Sunday newspapers?’
Cash replied: ‘We’re not, we’ve been fighting the unsafe practice, the unsafe introduction, of driver-only operation since February this year.’ He stressed: ‘We are not part of a conspiracy to bring down this government,we are trying to make sure we have a safe railway. That’s our priority, to ensure the safety of passengers, that’s our first and an only objective.’
It was put to him that the RMT president Sean Hoyle was quoted in one of the Sunday papers as saying ‘from his speech in Brighton in September: “Any trade unionist with any sense would want to bring down this bloody working class-hating Tory government”. Why would he say that if there isn’t some kind of effort to do just that?’
Cash said: ‘I’m not interested in what’s said at small fringe political meetings, the general secretary of the RMT speaks on behalf of the RMT. I am telling you what this dispute is about.’
The interviewer pressed him: ‘But why would your president make such a statement?’ Cash replied: ‘Our focus is about keeping the second safety critical person on the train. This started back in February, I need to remind you by the director of franchise for the Department for Transport saying he’s going to take on the trade unions, he was going to get the trade unions out of his industry.
‘If you’ve got any questions about what’s going on politically, you should ask Chris Grayling, the secretary of state, why his director of franchise is seeking to have a bust up with the unions when all we’re trying to do is keep a second safety critical person on every train. That’s our priority.’
The BBC interviewer asked: ‘Are you saying then that your union is in no way involved in a coordinated effort and would not want to see this Conservative government brought down by your actions?’
Cash replied: ‘Most definitely we are not doing any coordinated action. If people want to get rid of a government they do it through the ballot box. We are in an industrial dispute about keeping a safety critical guard on the train. We have some real serious concerns about the safety of passengers.’
He added: ‘I’m concerned that the new secretary of state for transport hasn’t met us.
‘Chris Grayling as far as I’m concerned is failing. He’s failing to stand up for the industry he’s failing to stand up for passengers by failing to meet us. He needs to get round the table because ultimately GTR and Southern are contractors for the DfT.
‘That’s where the solution lies, getting round the table, not barring people like myself from talks as happened this week. I need to remind you I tried to have meetings with Southern this week to stop industrial action. I got barred by Southern from those discussions.’
Dave Wiltshire, the secretary of the All Trades Unions Alliance, commented: ‘The only conspiracy here is the ruling class one, so as to be able to bring in anti-union laws to ban all strikes to keep the UK in place as a slave labour nation.
‘The ATUA has no problem with saying that we want to see a general strike to defend the NHS and to defend the jobs, wages, safety and rights of all workers. In fact our conference will be discussing and organising for a general strike. We invite all workers who want the Tories out to come along and take part.’