Fresh from slaughtering in Iraq, the Labour Party can return once again to the enemy within - namely, the organised working class.
It is only a matter of time before we will see troops on the streets of Britain again - most likely over the firefighters strike. While the Government cannot employ troops against the guards strike on the railways, they are still doing all they can to defeat them. The guards are taking action as a result of rail bosses attempts to undermine their role by taking away the safety aspects of their jobs. The Government, through the strategic rail authority, have responded by guaranteeing to make up any losses the rail companies incur due to the strikes.
The guards strike is important not just because it affects the safety of passengers. The primary role of the guard has historically been to ensure the safe running of the train - a crucial role should a potential accident occur. By taking away the guards. safety role, the bosses hope to be able to do away with the guards altogether in the long run. Currently, the majority of trains cannot move without a guard on board, for safety reasons, but, by transferring the safety aspects of the job to the driver, the guards will be reduced to little more than roving ticket inspectors.
This is the next step in the casualisation of the railways - a process which has seen safety of the railways and rail workers' jobs undermined in order that they can be replaced by untrained contract and agency workers.
This dispute has hardly been helped by the union leaders. When the rail bosses imposed the changes to the guards role, a ballot was held of all guards, which predictably resulted in a massive 5 to 1 majority for strike action. However, union leaders, fearful of falling foul of anti-trade union laws, consulted their solicitors, who argued that the strike may be deemed illegal.
Scared of losing money, the union leaders called the strike off and entered talks with management. The talks dragged on for years, during which time, rail companies have done all they can to undermine the guards. role. It is a reflection of the strength of feeling of the guards that, despite the best efforts of union leaders and management, they are still confident enough to take action.
Let us hope that the guards. fight will be the start of a wider campaign against casualisation. If it is to succeed, such a campaign must involve all those employed on the railways, including contract and agency workers. The aim must be the return of national pay and conditions for all those working on the railways.