Rail passengers face months of industrial conflict, warns union leader


A union leader has warned of months of industrial conflict on the railways as disputes over staffing threaten to cause fresh travel chaos for hundreds of thousands of passengers.

Southern Railway travellers will be hit by more disruption because of a series of 14 strikes between October and December in the long running row over the role of conductors.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), told a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference it was "lunacy" to be cutting staff at a time of record passenger numbers.

To loud applause from a packed meeting, he accused the Department for Transport of trying to push through staffing cuts across the railway industry.

"At a time when record numbers of passengers are using the railways, you would think the last thing anyone would do is cut back on staff, but the bean counters at the Treasury and the Department for Transport are doing just that.

"Over the next few months there will be a lot of industrial conflict in the railway network.

"Unions will be standing shoulder to shoulder against these people who are trying to vandalise our industry."

Mick Lynch, assistant general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said a system could quickly be developed to take rail franchises back into public ownership when they expire.

"We could take back stations, infrastructure, track and train operating companies as well as freight companies which are struggling because they have to make a profit."

Mick Whelan, leader of the train drivers' union Aslef, said: "We believe in booking offices, staff on platforms and at the back and front of trains," adding that passengers and rail workers were losing faith in the industry because of high fares, over-crowded and unreliable services and cuts.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald, told the meeting the disruption which has affected Southern services for months was "appalling",  saying that the Government was quick to blame the unions rather than the management.

The re-election of Jeremy Corbyn had boosted the campaign to re-nationalise the railways because he was a strong supporter of publicly-run railways, he said.

Taking private rail companies back into public ownership would save a "fortune", he claimed.