A national protest against Southern Rail's plans to cut guards on trains took place in London this afternoon, as conductors are set to strike again later this week.
Up to 200 opponents of the rail firm's plans organised in Old Palace Yard before making their way to a committee room in parliament. Speakers were due to include the RMT's general secretary, Mick Cash, TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes, Labour's shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald and Green party co-leader, Caroline Lucas.
— RMT (@RMTunion) November 1, 2016
Guards on Southern train services are set to walk out on Friday and Saturday this week in their eighth strike over the issue. More industrial action is planned for the next two months.
— Unite the Resistance (@resistunite) November 1, 2016
Jeremy Corbyn also turned up to the meeting to show his support for the striking workers.The Labour leader has previously called for the railways to be brought back into public ownership.
He said that Labour supported the campaign for a conductor or guard on every train and that the dispute was being driven by the government "who seem to be more interested in breaking the unions than reaching a settlement."
— Sophie 🇵🇸🌹 (@SocialistSophie) November 1, 2016
The rally also led to MPs Angela Rayner, Labour's shadow education secretary, and Gavin Barwell, the Conservative housing minister, having a public spat on Twitter.
— Angela Rayner (@AngelaRayner) November 1, 2016
— Gavin Barwell (@GavinBarwell) November 1, 2016
Govia Thameslink Railways (GTR) and RMT said they were both ready to talk, but no meeting has been set. GTR said it would withdraw an offer it made if the strikes go ahead; it promised a £2,000 jobs bonus, above-inflation pay increases and made some guarantees on jobs.
But Cash has rejected the offer, saying it is "completely meaningless" and the £2,000 payment was a bribe.
Speaking before the demonstration, he said: "The government is determined to let GTR Southern continue to default on this franchise, the biggest one in the country, whilst it is trying to defeat the RMT.
"Like previous struggles in our history the RMT is now being targeted to send a clear message to every union member that fighting against cuts is not going to work."
Southern Rail wants to take the responsibility for operating train doors away from guards so that they can focus on a customer service role, but opponents say it will compromise safety on trains, and fear job losses.
Demo at Westminster – RMT want to keep guards on train pic.twitter.com/NGGvgUNo1m
— Tom Edwards (@BBCTomEdwards) November 1, 2016
Government payments to the owner of Southern Rail have been slashed due to the network's under-performance in the wake of its ongoing battle with unions over the role of guards on its trains, it was also revealed earlier today.
— Association of British Commuters (@ABCommuters) November 1, 2016
GTR passenger revenue fell three per cent in the three months to the end of September and the number of passenger journeys fell by 0.5 per cent.
Drivers in the Aslef and RMT unions began their own ballot on future strike action.