The Guardian February 9, 2000


Britain:
Rail strike brings victory

British train drivers' union ASLEF has defeated an attempt by privatised 
rail operator Connex to renege on an agreement for shorter hours and 
improved pensions. Drivers employed by Connex South Central and Connex 
South Eastern scored a direct hit with a 100 percent solid one-day strike 
on January 25.

The two French-owned train companies operate the busiest commuter services 
into London from Kent, Surrey and Sussex. Last year Connex and the union 
reached an agreement to cut driver hours from 37 a week to 35 and 
amalgamate all pay when calculating pensions.

The union also wanted the company to stop relying on drivers working 
overtime to run a regular scheduled service  meaning the overtime was 
more or less compulsory and there was a lot of it.

Drivers were suffering from exhaustion with all the danger that implies for 
passengers.

The agreement was to be implemented as soon as Connex had recruited enough 
drivers to make it workable. The union allowed the company several months 
to do this.

But the company dragged its heels and kept insisting the drivers continue 
working unacceptable levels of overtime. Negotiations were getting nowhere.

So drivers declared an overtime ban  just as Christmas was approaching. 
Connex, instead of negotiating with the workers, got a High Court 
injunction to prevent an overtime ban during the holiday period.

This effectively forced the drivers to continue working excessive hours 
over the holiday period when they needed some time to be with their 
families.

This provoked a lot of anger and as soon as the injunction was lifted in 
early January, they implemented the overtime ban, forcing Connex to cancel 
up to 400 trains a day. But the company rescheduled its services and 
crowded the passengers into far fewer trains.

So on January 25, ASLEF held a one-day strike. Even by using driver 
instructors to operate the trains, Connex could operate only one in ten of 
their scheduled services.

The union announced another five one-day strikes spread throughout 
February. But Connex was already indicating it was now willing to negotiate 
properly.

ASLEF had said all along that it would talk to Connex about ending the 
strike program as soon as the company indicated it was willing to talk 
meaningfully  and that meant proper commitment and dates for implementing 
the agreement made last year.

The Communist Party of Britain political committee sent its congratulations 
to ASLEF for the "magnificent unity of its members" in winning the victory.

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