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.