Rail workers strike against Serco

The RMT railworkers and transport union declared its second 48 hour strike against the Serco Caledonian Sleeper rail company over safety conditions on the train service. 

The next strike started on Sunday 11 October and follows the first strike on Sunday 4 October which had total support of RMT members and shut the train service down completely.  Mike Picken reports from Scotland.

Addressing an online rally in support of sacked IKEA Glasgow trade unionist Richie Venton, Caledonian Sleeper crew member and RMT activist Mandy Marshall explained how members of the RMT had been forced into the action by a company oblivious to staff and passenger safety concerns and accused the company of deliberately provoking the dispute.  The Serco company has refused demands by RMT members for rest facilities on the long shifts they are required to undertake, despite their own expert analysis showing how this puts safety at risk. 

The RMT strongly condemned former SNP Member of the Westminster Parliament Margaret Ferrier when she travelled by rail between Scotland and London while testing positive for Covid-19.  Despite the SNP leadership’s disowning of Ferrier, the Scottish government have so far refused to call attention to the health and safety issues in the Caledonian Sleeper service and “haul Serco into line”.

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said;

“It is appalling that SERCO have stonewalled every opportunity to resolve this dispute since last Sundays rock-solid action and that failure on the companies part leaves them wholly responsible for the cancellation of services again this weekend.”

Serco in the spotlight

The Caledonian Sleeper rail service is part of Britain’s fragmented and privatised rail service and provides overnight trains between London and Scotland – a service that has been running since 1873.  In the complex web of British rail privatisation, Caledonian Sleeper was previously part of the Scottish privatised rail service, ScotRail, currently run by the Abellio rail company. 

Abellio are a subsidiary of the Dutch state rail system and run a number of other train services in Britain.  Abellio also have a business alliance with the Serco group, Abellio-Serco, which currently runs the Merseyrail urban transport network based in Liverpool and previously ran the Northern England rail franchise. Since the start of the lockdown in March, Britain’s privatised rail operators have received over 3 billion pounds of taxpayers’ funding to continue operating their services during the pandemic.  While the Office for National Statistics is treating them as “nationalised” services, they remain privatised companies delivering profits to their bosses.

Serco took over the franchise for Caledonian Sleeper from Abellio in 2015 and are a major outsourcing company for the British public sector.  Serco have close links with the Tory party and members of the UK government through their chief executive, grandson of former Tory Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who is closely linked with the upper echelons of the Tory party.  Serco have a massive range of privatised services, but their most prominent recently was for the failing UK testing system for Covid-19.  Serco received a contract for large parts of the £12billion service without any tender arrangements and despite their previous record of being fined for failure to deliver government contracts for prisoner tagging and housing asylum seekers in Scotland.  Serco run the privatised testing system under the laughable title of “NHS Test & Protect”, yet show no regard for the health of passengers and staff on their rail service.  Serco are also likely to be involved in the forthcoming planned evictions of asylum seekers alongside other privatised companies running the racist UK Home Office system.  Serco still run the Home Office contracts for housing asylum seekers in England for the North West, Midlands and Eastern regions  even though they were stripped of their contract for housing Scottish asylum seekers and fined for their failures in 2019.

Solidarity with RMT members – end privatisation

RMT members should be supported by all in the labour movement in their strikes against Serco in defence of workers and passenger safety.  Both the SNP and Labour need to speak out against the privatised company’s role and demand they meet with the RMT and negotiate proper staff rest facilities on the Caledonian Sleeper and put safety first. 

But behind this dispute lies a massive wall of Tory privatisation that the labour movement needs to demand should be replace by a publicly-owned and controlled rail and health services that put public health and safety before private profit.

Messages of solidarity to: info@rmt.org.uk  Twitter:  @RMTunion

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