By New Worker correspondent
HUNDREDS of railway workers, other trade unionists, pensioners, rail passenger groups and people with disabilities gathered in Parliament Square on Wednesday 2nd November to tell the Government to keep guards on trains.
The rally in Parliament Square was followed by a packed meeting in a committee room inside Parliament.
In particular this demonstration was about Southern Rail’s long-running dispute with its own workers to try to do away with the role of a safety-trained guard or conductor on every train.
But similar disputes are happening all over the country as the private train operating companies are also trying to go over to driver-only-operated (DOO) trains.
The Government is urging these companies on behind the scenes and has intervened in the Southern Rail dispute negotiations, leading to the collapse of talks that could have been close to an agreement.
The long-running series of strikes by RMT workers on Southern Rail, which is run by Govia Thameslink Railways (GTR), is continuing and now the train drivers’ union ASLEF is balloting to join the action.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn joined the rally to show his support for the striking rail workers. He has pledged that if elected at the next general election he will renationalise our railways.
Speakers at the meeting included the RMT general secretary Mick Cash, TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes, Labour's shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald and Green party co-leader Caroline Lucas.
Guards on Southern train services are set to walk out on Friday and Saturday this week in their eighth strike over the issue. More industrial action is planned for the next two months.
GTR said that it would withdraw an offer it made if the strikes go ahead; it promised a £2,000 jobs bonus, above-inflation pay increases and made some guarantees on jobs. But Cash has rejected the offer, saying it is "completely meaningless" and the £2,000 payment was a bribe.
Speaking before the demonstration, he said: "The Government is determined to let GTR Southern continue to default on this franchise, the biggest one in the country, whilst it is trying to defeat the RMT.
"Like previous struggles in our history the RMT is now being targeted to send a clear message to every union member that fighting against cuts is not going to work."
Government payments to the owner of Southern Rail have been slashed because of the network's under-performance in the wake of its ongoing battle with unions over the role of guards on its trains.
Two months ago the Government awarded GTR Southern £20 million extra funding and just days afterwards the company registered record profits, despite running an appalling service even when there is no strike on.
Commuters have lost their jobs because of persistent lateness caused by the poor service.