Train drivers stage a solid picket line outside Paddington station in London (Picture: Alan Kenny)

The Aslef train drivers’ union, has announced another two strike days at 16 rail companies on Saturday 30 September and Wednesday 4 October. There will also be an overtime ban across the entire rail network on Friday 29 September and from Monday 2 to Friday 6 October.

The strikes will stop delegates, MPs, media and corporate hangers-on traveling by rail to and from the Tory conference in Manchester. And they will bookend strikes by junior doctors and consultants from 2-4 October.

The demonstration by the People’s Assembly and Stand Up To Racism on Sunday 1 October now has more momentum,

The RMT union should also call action during the conference, and so should every group with a live strike ballot.

 Socialist Worker earlier this month revealed the plans for rail strikes around the Conservatives’ gathering.

The decision enraged the Tories. Mark Harper, the transport secretary, said the strikes were “politically motivated”. But the government is quite happy to fund the rail companies to withstand the strikes. That apparently is not “politically motivated”.

Aslef says its strikes “Will force the train operating companies to cancel all services and the ban on overtime will seriously disrupt the network as the privatised train companies have always failed to employ enough drivers to provide a proper service without asking drivers to work their rest days.”

It’s very positive that the Tories will meet amid travel chaos and with NHS workers in revolt. If other unions had joined in earlier it would be a real focus for resistance.

But the good news of the rail strikes came just hours before leaders of the UCU union wrecked five days of national strikes in universities that they had called just a few days before.

The decision to call the strikes came from a Branch Delegate Meeting on 11 August. At that meeting, delegates from branches across Britain voted two to one for action.

But UCU general secretary Jo Grady agreed a special meeting of the Higher Education Committee on Friday to ram through an attack on the strikes.

An attempt to call off all the strikes failed. The strikes are still on.

But the HEC agreed, with Socialist Worker supporters voting against, to allow any university that wished to drop out of the action to do so. It’s a green light to every right winger to extract their university and leave behind a fragmented, divided and disillusioned union. 

A member of the HEC, told Socialist Worker, “The right wing on the HEC, which includes the general secretary’s faction, used the lack of confidence in Jo Grady’s leadership to win a position that branches can opt out of the action.”

The opt-out does not apply to the Scottish branches which are just about to strike.

The decision ensures there will be no more national walkouts during the present strike mandate under the anti-union laws.

UCU members should fight hard to stop their branch pulling the plug on the five-day action, and argue for the strikes as a precursor to an indefinite strike.

The UCU Left organisation said, “Our union is in a crisis made by the general secretary and her supporters.”

The absence of national action leaves more isolated the workers striking locally in Brighton, Stirling, Liverpool John Moores, Durham and Queen Mary universities.

The UCU leaders’ strategy is outrageous. It is more important than ever that workers push for an immediate strike ballot and an indefinite strike.

The 16 companies hit by the Aslef strikes are Avanti West Coast, Chiltern Railways, c2c, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Greater Anglia, GTR Great Northern Thameslink, Great Western Railway, Island Line, LNER, Northern Trains, Southeastern, Southern/Gatwick Express, South Western Railway, TransPennine Express, and West Midlands Trains.

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