289 Views

‘Unite and Fight’: Why Sussex students should back rail strikes

If there were any more evidence needed of the government’s continued efforts to undermine unions on strike, it has come in the form of the recent amendments to the Trade Unions Act (2016), which have come into force this month. It is now mandatory for companies to be informed of planned strike actions 14 days ahead of time, rather than the previous week notice required. It has also been demanded that picket lines have a “picketing supervisor”, and according to BBC news, there has been a “removal of restrictions on using temporary workers to cover for striking staff. A ban has been in place since 1973”. So with the unions under attack, where do students stand?

While we’ve all heard chants of “students and workers unite and fight”, how often do we see this followed through with by either group? In the most recent struggles for students – rising tuition fees – we have seen barely any support from groups of workers not directly linked to the education system. Even within these groups, support has been timid at best. Still, how can we possibly expect support for student movements if students do not stand with workers?

Over the last 18 months, there has been an ongoing dispute between Southern Rail (nicknamed Southern Fail) and the RMT Union – that is the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ Union, Britain’s largest specialist transport trade union. You may have come into contact with these strikes when you weren’t able to make it home for your mum’s birthday, or if, like one disgruntled editor, you were stuck on a replacement bus service while heavily hungover and “everything hurt!”.

However, what often slips past the media coverage of the strike is the actual reason behind it – primarily protecting health and safety. Southern Rail has proposed running driver only operated trains. This would mean the removal of the guards who currently check all of the doors in case people get stuck in them, help people with disabilities onto trains from the platforms, and aid people in carrying luggage and prams. Not to mention, all guards undergo thorough health and safety training, making them highly equipped in emergency situations. Having only drivers on the trains, plus untrained personnel, would mean that only two people (one of whom is hopefully driving the train) would be available in an emergency, to help you onto a train, and to check that everything is entirely safe. The recent introduction of stickers showing passengers how to evacuate themselves shows the understood risks. I know who I would want there to help me.

The RMT Union has declared that this proposal is dangerous for passengers, and that is where the strike began. Southern Rail of course claim that their new proposals are safe – it probably helps that the Chief Executive Officer of GTR, Charles Horton, sits on the Rail Safety and Standards Board. Less than three months ago, in Watford, a driver became incapacitated and it was the on-board safety trained guard who was left to evacuate passengers and carry out safety procedures.

While the strikes have been incredibly disruptive (which is the point of strikes, after all) there is a distinct fact being ignored by almost everyone in a position to do something about them – Southern Rail are losing no money through the strikes. They are not losing any money through the lack of trains running. They are not even losing money through keeping guards on trains. The government pays GTR (of which Southern Rail are one quarter) a set amount of £1.1 billion annually, whether they sell tickets or not. The only reason for Southern to introduce driver only trains is to maximise their profits even further. This means there are two ways for the strikes to end. Southern Rail could back down (unlikely), the government could step up and remind Southern Rail that they are supposed to be providers of public transport, not public endangerment. The only way either of these are going to happen will be through massive public pressure.

The only way the Southern Rail situation will be resolved will be from massive public pressure. As Southern’s profits remain the same whether they sell tickets or not, it is only support for the strike from other unions and the public which will make the difference. This is where students come in.

There is a tendency to see students and workers as completely separate, but this is not the reality. With the amount of students in work, we make up a large portion of the work force anyway. But more than that, students are generally (unless you’re really lucky) aiming to become qualified in order to begin working. The divides between students and workers are purely imaginary, but they charge a distinct lack of interest in communication and joint actions between these two groups.
This is a huge waste. Look at the most recent student actions, for instance. At the Boycott the NSS demo, there were not only speeches from Students’ Union leaders, but also members of the UCU, the University and College Union, which is the union most of your lecturers are members of. Having more support for strikes, boycotts, and other large-scale industrial actions is key for the success of unions.

Yet, at current, communication between unions is in a dire state, with little to no joint actions. With one of the largest strikes in recent history happening mere yards from our campus, where has the support been from the students or, perhaps more pressingly, the Students’ Union?

The Students’ Union needs to make a concerted effort to stand with the RMT and, on a larger scale, against the breaking down of the unions. The current strike action is the largest taken by the RMT since the 1940s, and is the largest action seen in Britain since the miner’s strikes of the 1980s. Those historic miner’s strikes were the last major instance of collaboration between unions and the public, and the effects of that loss can still be seen in the decimated mining communities today. Though we are encouraged to think of striking workers as only a nuisance, we must not forget that it was unions (including the RMT) which built the labour party, and have shaped politics as we know it today.

So to anyone who tells you that going on strike is selfish, that their travel needs outweigh the need for safety and thousands of jobs, remind them that it is the unions who have made a world in which we can expect respect for workers, decent pay, and good working conditions. There is a way to end this strike, and get back full use of the trains – and that way is through standing with the unions.

Get the best viral stories straight into your inbox!

Don't worry, we don't spam

Leave a Reply

Join the Badger Team

Apply today!

Latest Posts

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate
Campus News
916 views1
Campus News
916 views1

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate

Jordan Wright - April 27, 2018

Student society Liberate the Debate’s most recent event was cancelled over a lack of compliance with the Students' Union's (USSU) requirement for a neutral chair - a…

Verve Couture – Musicality, kitsch & ignition: the beginning of a series
Arts
249 views
Arts
249 views

Verve Couture – Musicality, kitsch & ignition: the beginning of a series

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - June 17, 2018

Pictured: Zac Black At Proud Cabaret audiences were spellbound as if at night at the circus, yet this was not like Angela Carter’s magical realist novel; Verve…

Fleabag on stage at The Old Market – review
Arts
265 views
Arts
265 views

Fleabag on stage at The Old Market – review

Florence Dutton - June 11, 2018

[caption id="attachment_35513" align="alignnone" width="2400"] Fleabag at Soho Theatre[/caption] Last Monday at 8pm at Brighton’s The Old Market, I sat myself down in my theatre seat eagerly awaiting…

Fleabag preview
Arts
247 views
Arts
247 views

Fleabag preview

Florence Dutton - June 2, 2018

[caption id="attachment_35513" align="alignnone" width="2400"] Fleabag at Soho Theatre[/caption] Following the mass success of the Bafta award-winning BBC Series, DryWrite and Soho Theatre are about to hit the…

Brighton Festival: Ezra Furman at the Dome
Arts
306 views
Arts
306 views

Brighton Festival: Ezra Furman at the Dome

Georgia Grace - June 1, 2018

Having completed my final semester of university with modules on punk history and queer arts, it was fitting that I rounded off my end-of-assessment celebrations by attending…

Arts
313 views

The Tempest review

Georgia Grace - May 30, 2018

As the sun begins to set over Hove Green, tinnies of Red Stripe are cracked open, tartan blankets are strewn, and families tuck into their picnic hampers.…

A Glass Half Empty review
Arts
283 views
Arts
283 views

A Glass Half Empty review

Georgia Grace - May 27, 2018

For those of us coming to the end of another year of university study, the prospect of careers, marriages and babies may seem a long way off.…

DollyWould at The Old Market review
Arts
266 views
Arts
266 views

DollyWould at The Old Market review

Alex Hutson - May 27, 2018

Sh!t Theatre’s DollyWould is a hilarious, thoughtful and experimental performance piece. The award winning show has the Sh!t Theatre duo integrating comedy, storytelling, personal experience and music.…

UCU Launch Petition to End the ‘Hostile Environment’ at Sussex
Campus News
406 views
Campus News
406 views

UCU Launch Petition to End the ‘Hostile Environment’ at Sussex

Billie-Jean Johnson - May 26, 2018

The Sussex branch of the University and College Union (UCU) has launched a petition calling for Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell to end the 'hostile environment' at Sussex. The…

Arts
214 views

Shakespeare in the sun – The Tempest preview

Georgia Grace - May 24, 2018

In a world of dystopian King Lears and female Hamlets, Shakespeare’s classics are constantly being reimagined for the modern day. There’s something oddly refreshing then about the…

Review: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)
Arts
679 views
Arts
679 views

Review: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)

Sophie Coppenhall - May 23, 2018

What a phenomenal contrast these two films present when watched side-by-side. In essence, together they are capable of tracing inner and outer metamorphoses of their subjects. The…

Dollywould at The Old Market preview
Arts
278 views
Arts
278 views

Dollywould at The Old Market preview

Alex Hutson - May 22, 2018

From the 22nd May - 25th May 2018 DollyWould will be showing at The Old Market. An exciting new show, presented by Sh!t Theatre, who won the…

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu
Artist Focus
368 views
Artist Focus
368 views

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - May 16, 2018

Last week artist Fedilou made her debut exhibition in the downstairs space of Morelli Zorelli, a quaint vegan Italian restaurant in Hove, featuring a collection of intimate…

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley
Interview
281 views
Interview
281 views

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley

Nikolaos Manesis - May 15, 2018

Ron Chrisley is a Reader in Philosophy, on the faculty of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, and is the director of COGS (Centre for Cognitive Science).…

Adam review
Arts
347 views
Arts
347 views

Adam review

Ketan Jha - May 13, 2018

If you have been a stranger to the stage this spring and decide to see one contemporary show, let it be Adam. This reviewer went in entirely…

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)
Arts
400 views
Arts
400 views

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)

Sophie Coppenhall - May 13, 2018

In celebration of iconic Brighton local, legendary alt-rock musician (and episodic actor) Nick Cave, TOM’s Film Club are hosting a double-bill screening of his films at The…

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review
Arts
422 views
Arts
422 views

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review

Georgia Grace - May 11, 2018

Meta-theatricality and interactivity are becoming all the more vogue in contemporary theatre, and in a world where the arts are becoming increasingly open and democratised, I find…

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks
Artist Focus
331 views
Artist Focus
331 views

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks

Alex Leissle - May 9, 2018

  [gallery type="slideshow" ids="35385,35386,35387,35388,35389,35390,35391,35392,35393,35394,35395,35396,35397,35398,35399,35400,35401,35402,35403,35404,35405,35406,35407,35408,35409,35410,35411"]

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival
Books
362 views
Books
362 views

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival

William Singh - May 9, 2018

Afua Hirsch’s 2018 book - part memoir, part polemic - provokes mixed feelings. So too did her discussion of the topic at this year’s Brighton Festival. Don’t…

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality
Science
459 views
Science
459 views

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality

Luke Richards - May 8, 2018

Bioweapons exist, while ethnic-bioweapons are whispered conspiracies. Pandemics can fairly hazardous to human life, the 1918 Flu Pandemic killed 20-50 million people. A man made pandemic could…

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced
News
388 views
News
388 views

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced

Jessica Hubbard - May 4, 2018

Students have voted to support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, reject Prevent and adopt new Gender Equality policies. Results for the Students' Union referenda were…