Christmas rail strikes a cynical move as RMT boss Mick Lynch risks alienating public - Jayne Dowle

In the face of Mick ‘the Grinch’ Lynch, the intransigent RMT leader threatening to ruin Christmas travels plans for millions of people, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s plea, to ‘think again’ over strike action sounds like the whimper of a kitten in the face of a roaring lion.

Does Mr Sunak really believe that Mr Lynch will take a blind bit of notice? This is not a character assassination of the trade unionist, by the way. And I’m not a hypocrite. As the daughter of a steelworker - my dad stood on the picket lines in the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher set about the decimation of the industry – and the grand-daughter of miners, I totally support the rights of working people. Indeed, I have been saddened in recent years as punitive legislation has made so many unions toothless against discriminatory policies such as inadequate minimum wage levels, zero hours contracts and eroding maternity and paternity provision. There is the right to protest, however, and there is sheer vindictiveness.

The RMT’s proposed strike action for the remainder of December, scheduled for December 13, 14, 16 and 17, is a body blow to Christmas, and will cause untold misery and distress for millions of travellers.

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Services on December 12, 15 and 18 will also be badly affected, because of the knock-on effects.

Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, speaks at the Durham Miners Gala 2022. Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images.Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, speaks at the Durham Miners Gala 2022. Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images.
Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, speaks at the Durham Miners Gala 2022. Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images.

If that wasn’t worrying enough for those who need to travel to work, to visit family and friends, to - even - enjoy a festive day out in another town or city, helping local economies in this harshest of winters, another walkout is due from 6pm on Christmas Eve, although disruption is likely to start earlier, until 6am on December 27. How cynical is that?

Just who does the RMT think it is trying to impress? With no trains at all, the impact on road traffic and other forms of public transport, including buses and coaches, will be colossal. My son’s girlfriend, who lives in London, is already re-thinking her plans to come and visit us at Christmas by coach (it’s far cheaper than rail) because travelling will be so stressful.

And this, let’s remember, is the first Christmas since the pandemic when UK restrictions have been lifted in full and people are at last free, theoretically at least, to travel where they want.

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Mr Lynch, who became General Secretary of the RMT in May 2021, should not assume he is the unassailable man of the people. A YouGov poll this week found that the majority of voters oppose Christmas rail strikes; 51 per cent are against the RMT’s proposed industrial action on the rail network between Christmas Eve and December 27.

Of those, 32 per cent strongly opposed the strikes and 19 per cent somewhat opposed the walkout. Some 19 per cent somewhat supported the strikes and 18 per cent strongly supported - with 12 per cent saying they do not know either way.

I know which way I would have voted, on the simple issue of economics.

The average salary of rail workers in 2022 is already £45,919, a figure based on averages across five job categories. This is good money, compared to the average full-time annual salary in the UK, which is only £33,000, according to data organisation Statista.

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These already well-rewarded workers are being offered a pay increase of up to eight per cent over two years, with nine per cent for those in London. They have also received assurances from the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), representing the regional train companies, that there would be no compulsory redundancies until 2024.

This offer would be funded by reforms, including the closure of ticket offices, the expansion of driver only operated trains, and changes to Sunday working – all of which, incidentally, will impact directly on paying customers. This not a political axe to grind by any means, but I simply don’t see how strike action can be justified when these are the figures and this is the deal on the table.

But that’s not really what it’s about, is it? Despite public dismay over these Christmas strikes, Mr Lynch has won approbation for his dogged determination to call out the Conservative government. Many would agree that he was absolutely right to say, in a speech at a TUC meeting in Ealing last month, that: “Wealth is being redistributed in this country - it’s being taken from us and sent to the super rich.”

Public support has been forthcoming up to now, because Mr Lynch is a confident and assured lion unafraid to call out the kittens in government. However, with this threat of Christmas strikes he is running the risk of alienating the very people who hitherto, have been behind him. It’s called public transport for a reason, and this powerful man should remember that.