RMT pickets angered at Tory government bailout to Arriva Rail North

Over the christmas period, Leeds train station has been like a ghost town on a Saturday morning as RMT members who are guards on Northern Rail have continued their strike in defence of their safety-critical role and in opposition to the proposed introduction of Driver Only/Controlled Operation (DOO/DCO) of trains.

Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party

But there was widespread anger amongst the guards and their supporters at the news that the government had been giving extra subsidies to Northern Rail operator Arriva Rail North.

In parliamentary questions the government had stated that Arriva Rail North would recieve £537m in subsidy from the start of the franchise in 2016 up to April 2018. However, the company has recieved an additions £9m in the 2016/17 financial year and an extra £22m in the 2017/18 financial year, the first year of the current dispute over DOO/DCO. This subsidy of £31m is almost the same as their profits over this two year period of £33.7m.

Pickets were angry at what they saw as the government bailing out the company on strike days, in effect the government aiding in the destruction of railway safety by allowing Northern Rail to dispense with the various safety duties carried out by guards.

Pickets agreed with Socialist Party members who suggested that these subsidies should be widely publicised. With the disastrous summer timetable change on Northern Rail which saw record cancellations and delays of services, as well as the inflation busting fare rises announced just days before this revelations there is huge public anger at the profiteering train operating companies in general as well as Arriva Rail North in particular.

Pickets assured us they would be discussing at their next branch meeting how to build on some of the activties that they have done to tap into this public support over the last few months, including a well attended public meeting in Leeds, 3 ‘public votes’ on whether there is support for retaining the safety-critical role of guards (with 99% support) carried out with the assistance of Leeds TUC and Leeds Socialist Party and distributing Xmas cards to the public from their striking guards.

The public support has seen cracks begin to appear in the company and government stances with talk of guaranteeing a ‘second person’ on trains towards the end of last year. However, it is becoming ever clearer that as well as ensuring that any second person on the train is a guard with all current safety-critical roles and competencies, that guaranteeing this for the long-term can only be done by stripping Arriva Rail North of the contract and returning Northern Rail to public ownership with democratic control and management of the service by elected bodies of rail workers and passengers.

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