Unions proposing rail strikes are selfish and taking us back to the 1970s - Mark Casci

With geopolitical uncertainty, soaring inflation and industrial action running amok, it very much feels like we are reliving the 1970s, albeit minus the awesome music.

Next week the biggest strike to hit Britain’s railways in a generation is set to get underway in a move which will lead to half of Britain’s rail lines being closed.

Network Rail said no passenger services will serve locations such as Penzance in Cornwall, Bournemouth in Dorset, Swansea in South Wales, Holyhead in North Wales, Chester in Cheshire and Blackpool, Lancashire.

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There will also be no passenger trains running north from Glasgow or Edinburgh.

Strikes are planned for next week.Strikes are planned for next week.
Strikes are planned for next week.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union at Network Rail and 13 train operators are to strike for three days in similar disputes over pay, jobs and pensions.

The strikes will affect millions of people.

These include key workers, students with exams, those who cannot work from home, holidaymakers and those attending important business and leisure events.

Several large events could be affected by the strikes, ranging from Glastonbury Festival, which runs from June 22 to 26, to the Headingley Test match between England and New Zealand taking place from June 23 to 27.

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Disruption is certain.Disruption is certain.
Disruption is certain.

The misery they will bring is colossal and the industrial action has clearly been designed to bring as much disruption as possible. Rail union leaders are notoriously intransigent in Britain.

One need only look at what happened when Network Rail wanted to introduce a new app for staff to allow for more efficient communication of information.

Such an innocuous move would barely raise an eyebrow in other industries. However in this instance unions held the introduction of the app back for an entire year.

The latest dispute concerns pay and job security.

Passengers have been told not to travel.Passengers have been told not to travel.
Passengers have been told not to travel.

The Rail and Maritime Union (RMT) says Network Rail plans to cut up to 2,500 jobs as part of a £2bn reduction in spending and that staff have been given a pay freeze.

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All of this sounds terrible on the face of it but a closer inspection reveals a fuller picture.

While it is true that Network Rail wants to reduce its headcount, it is confident that this can be achieved through voluntary means, particularly as a “significant” number of employees are over the age of 60.

It also wants to introduce changes to working practices linked to technologies such as using drones to check tracks and infrastructure, which the company says would be safer than having workers on the tracks, as well as more cost effective. Pay freezes are always difficult to contend with, not least when we are facing a cost of living crisis.

However it should be kept in mind how well paid the rail sector is. The average member of staff working on Britain’s railways is paid £44,000 a year.

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This is significantly ahead of what the average teacher, nurse or police officer receives.

The strike action is not only unwarranted, it is destined to fail.

All it will achieve is to disrupt people’s lives. Unlike other massive strikes in other sectors, there will be little sympathy among the general public. Most people, I imagine, will think what makes railway workers think they are so special?

This in turn will make them less likely to want to use its services. With passenger numbers already a fraction of pre-pandemic levels, this will heap further damage on the sector which is already facing a financial black hole.

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In taking this action, unions are not only causing passengers misery, they are damaging their sector’s future prospects.

The selfishness and myopia of the unions’ collective stance is not the only factor to be deplored here.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps could not have been more ineffectual in handling this.

Keeping Britain moving is the primary duty of his office and he is set to fail to achieve this.

The Great British public deserve so much better than to have to endure a scenario we thought had been consigned to history.

Sometimes it is hard not to think Britain is going backwards.