Sexual assault on stations and trains

This is the speech I gave in moving RMT's motion to TUC Women's Conference about sexual assault on stations and trains. TSSA submitted an amendment which RMT opposed. The amendment was defeated and the motion passed.


One of our elected delegates is not here.

  • Because she was violently sexually assaulted while she was working in a London Underground ticket hall.
  • A man ran towards her, grabbed her, groped her breasts, pinned her against the wall and would not let her go.
  • She is pregnant.
  • She tried to continue working, but became ill from the trauma and is off sick.

Transport companies' policies are making women workers and passengers more vulnerable to sexual assault.

  • cutting the number of station staff
  • closing ticket offices
  • increasing lone working
  • removing guards from trains

If there is a guard on the train, if there are enough staff on a station, then a woman passenger is less likely to be attacked, and more able to get help if she is attacked.

We demand an end to the spread of driver-only operation, and an end to cuts in station staffing. More than that, we want these cuts reversed and the staff restored.

We will be in a better position to achieve these demands if the railway industry comes back into public ownership.

  • Not because British Rail was perfect
  • But because if we drive the profit motive off the railway then we can run public transport in the interests of safe, accessible, reliable journeys for passengers, not in the interests of Brian Souter's or Richard Branson's profit accounts.

Trade unions support this policy, Labour Party conferences support this policy, three-quarters of the public support this policy ...
And at last, we have a Labour Party leadership which supports this policy and which pledges that when it wins the next election, it will bring our railways back into public ownership.

But we need more than just public ownership. Going further than simply renationalisation, democratic workers' and passengers' control can enable us to implement what women passengers demand and need.

Awareness campaigns, 'Project Guardian', etc, are not a substitute for decent numbers of staff.

We want a vigorous campaign to achieve this. And that's why RMT has not accepted TSSA's amendment.

RMT did not want to be in this position. We suggested to the TUC that it arrange a composite so we could iron out the problems with it, but we did not receive a reply. So we are left with no choice but to ask you to vote against the amendment.

We have two problems with the amendment:

Firstly, its suggestion that simply renationalising the railways will automatically lead to safe staffing levels. It won't. We know this because, for example, London Underground is publicly owned and is slashing its staffing levels - removing 800 staff from stations and planning to introduce driverless trains.

Secondly, the amendment deletes the call on the TUC to "vigorously campaign for ... adequate staffing", and relegates the reference to adequate staffing to the section about a "possible joint campaign ... for ... recognition of the contribution made by adequate staffing".

It waters down our resolution:

  • From a vigorous campaign to a possible campaign
  • From demanding adequate staffing to recognising its contribution.

Transport unions and the TUC, working together in the Action for Rail campaign, are demanding public ownership and an end to cuts.

The European Transport Workers' Federation Women's Committee is running a campaign called VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN TRANSPORT WORKERS - IT'S NOT PART OF THE JOB.

This is not the time to quieten our voice. It is the time to vigorously demand concretely what we need.

Because we can not rely on others to do this for us.

We can't rely on the police. When the police investigated the assault on our sister that I talked about at the start, they said "That's not really a sexual assault, that's more like a cuddle."

We can't rely on the employers. We asked London Underground how it was going to address the fact that its current station staff reorganisation increases lone working and therefore increases vulnerability to sexual assault. Its reply was that it would send staff on assault avoidance training.

ie. It would train us to avoid being sexually assaulted

  • This can only make sense if you think that we are doing something to invite or cause assault.
  • That it is our behaviour that needs changing not our assailants'.
  • It is straightforward victim-blaming. And it is not acceptable.

Can we rely on the government, even one which owned the railway? Of course we can't.

Sisters, it is down to us. We will only get what we need if we demand it loudly and vigorously. Please don't amend this motion. Please support it in full.