Year 2000 No.16, January 31, 2000

Connex Grant Train Drivers their Demands

The Working Class Must End its Marginalisation and Set its Own Agenda

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Connex Grant Train Drivers their Demands

The Working Class Must End its Marginalisation and Set its Own Agenda

See Tomorrow's WDIE, Tuesday, February 1, for new of the programme of the Workers' Resource Centre.

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Connex Grant Train Drivers their Demands

Last Friday, January 28, Connex granted the train drivers’ demands for which they had gone on strike on January 25, and for which they were planning five more 24-hour strikes.

The deal agreed between Connex and train drivers’ union ASLEF is for a 36-hour week beginning in October, which will be reduced to 35 hours by autumn 2001. Connex also agreed to phase in 100% of pensionable pay by the year 2003, which was the other main demand of the drivers. The deal also included the promise of further talks to eliminate rest-day working. The train drivers had been implementing an overtime ban in furtherance of their claim that driving the trains for longer periods than their basic working week is a practice which is potentially dangerous, and should be done away with. ASLEF said that Connex will need to employ a further 80 drivers to run the trains based on the shorter working week. Under the deal, local Connex managers will also undergo industrial relations training with staff representatives.

ASLEF general secretary Mick Rix said: "It is thanks to the solidarity and determination of our members at Connex that we have been able to achieve this satisfactory result." Connex managing director Geoff Harrison-Mee said that the deal was "satisfactory to all parties".

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The Working Class Must End its Marginalisation and Set its Own Agenda

WDIE congratulates the train drivers at Connex for winning their demands, and regards this as a positive development. It is a blow to the Blairite thesis that the class struggle is over and that the role of the workers and their trade unions is to concentrate on their employers’ interests. However, the matter by no means ends there, and the workers should beware of being enticed to fall into any trap which says that their role ends with such a victory.

The main issue that the train drivers, in common with all workers, have to pay attention to is, who is setting the agenda? The struggle of the train drivers took place in the context of the privatisation and break up of the rail network. This programme has been implemented by the government in response to the crisis of the social welfare state and nationalisation. The programme of privatisation superseded that of the "old left", of state control and state investment in infrastructure. It has been justified with theories that competition is necessary for efficiency, for modernisation and for the benefit of the customer, for the people as a whole. But on the railways, it is clear that such a programme has resulted in a service which is spiralling downwards, a scandalous safety record which is causing grave concern, increased pressure on the workers but handouts and soaring profits for the financial oligarchy. If such a programme is continued, can it be said that the train drivers have won a lasting victory? It would be very blinkered and narrow-minded to make such a statement.

The state and its government have been setting the agenda on the railways, as in all spheres of the society. It has profoundly affected not only the conditions of the workers but of the rail users. A similar thing is true for the ramifications of this agenda throughout the society. Not only have the workers been marginalised from having any say in this agenda and in the running of society, but this present government is attempting to make sure that the thought of participating in setting the agenda for society never enters the workers’ heads. It is saying that the trade unions should never dabble in politics, that the workers should even forget their class, that partnership with the employers to be competitive globally is the order of the day.

The workers cannot accept this role given to them by the government. Nor can they accept that they should continually be fighting struggles in defence of their pay and working conditions and leave the matter there. If they are continually excluded from setting their own agenda for society, then not only will their pay and working conditions continue to deteriorate and such battles be fought again and again, but the crisis in the whole of society will continue to intensify.

How can the workers end their marginalisation and begin to put themselves in a position where they are the ones who set the agenda? They must begin by working out how to develop and implement a programme that arises from their own experience, and will take them on a line of march that leads to a new society. Against the anti-social offensive, they will develop the programme to Stop Paying the Rich – Increase Investments in Social Programmes! In developing this programme, they must begin on the basis of setting their own agenda, of raising the level of discussion on this agenda, and should form groups of Writers and Disseminators for this purpose.

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