Leaders of rail unions split on BR peace offer

RAIL union leaders are deeply split over British Rail's final offer to end the dispute over job security in the run-up to privatisation.

While the executive of the Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT) has narrowly rejected the package, leaders of maintenance workers believe the assurances from management are sufficient to end the campaign of 24-hour strikes, it emerged yesterday. Internal divisions in the rail unions make a resumption of industrial action unlikely and mean the probable end to any threat of a 'summer of discontent'.

The National Union of Mineworkers will find it hard to soldier on alone for long in protest at pit closures, having synchronised strikes with rail workers.

An NUM election in which two supporters of Arthur Scargill have been replaced makes his hold on the union tenuous. The first meeting of the new executive, scheduled for 6 May, will face calls for an end to stoppages after management claims that an increasing number of NUM members were defying the strikes.

Firefighters - the other possible participants in a summer of discontent - are unlikely to take action to defend their pay mechanism until later this year.

In the rail industry, members of the RMT are to be balloted on fresh disruption after their executive turned down the new offer, but failed to secure a two-thirds majority needed to order further stoppages.

The 67,000-strong RMT is by far the biggest union at BR, but acceptance of the deal by leaders of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions which covers 5,000 maintenance workers, will severely weaken RMT's position.

Industrial action has already been undermined by the agreement of the 16,000-strong train drivers' union Aslef to resume normal working. Aslef joined the other unions in the second of two strikes, although they were involved in a separate dispute.

The confederation has not formally accepted BR's offer, but its leadership is virtually certain to do so whatever the result of the RMT ballot.

Confederation members at BR's workshops have been told that management does not foresee the need for compulsory redundancies over the next 12 months - a statement which addresses one of their central concerns. Members of RMT have been offered assurances extending over the next 'couple of years'.