15 AUGUST 2016


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Article from BTNews 15 AUGUST 2016

COMMENT: A strike too far

Don’t worry if you can’t understand the current rash of industrial unrest on the trains. You are not alone. Unless you’re Jeremy Corbyn, the remarkable coincidence of a strike on Southern Railway, now in abeyance while the two sides have a chat, being followed by the threat of similar assaults on Eurostar and Virgin East Coast, and possibly more, beggars belief.

Some of that seemed to be sinking in as of Friday, when the RMT and TSSA unions said the planned action at Eurostar was being suspended “to allow further talks” but a roll-call compiled yesterday (Sunday) of actual and possible disputes still makes depressing reading.

As things stand, Southern, which seems to have been the catalyst, could be facing more action in the future. Separately, Gatwick Express has a threat hanging over it next month, as do Great Northern and Thameslink.

Virgin Trains has been told of a possible strike at the end of this week while Eurostar could yet face disruption by the RMT on 27-29 August and by the TSSA on 28-29 August.

The RMT said last week’s suspension of its strike action was to allow "further, detailed negotiations after some progress in talks". It maintained however that the current dispute “remains live at this time".

Those with long memories will recognise all this as reminiscent of the 1970s and 80s. Some might even have thought changes of attitude on both sides, management and unions, in the intervening years might mean it did not have to happen again. 

Something has clearly gone wrong and again it is the consumer caught in the middle. Faced with the threat of a strike, even if it doesn’t materialise, customers contemplating journeys, especially  those planning business trips or family holidays, have to assess whether to cancel or keep their bookings in place and face losing their money.

Virgin Trains, where there has been a strike ballot although no strike has yet been called, has responded by reassuring customers it will run a full timetable during any RMT action, leading to predictable cries of “scab managers”.

Some commentators have suggested the unions’ apparent new militancy is a reaction to Brexit and a desire to protect the workers’ rights clauses in EU legislation which will no longer apply to the UK after we leave. Some see it as a test of the new government’s nerve.

And so on.

What is clear is that passengers, now facing a fares increase this week, are getting increasingly fed up. Union members aren’t the only ones who can hold demos outside stations.

Sounds like a case for the head-bangers to us.

As in, take both sides and bang their heads together until a solution is found. Enough is enough.

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OUR READERS' FINEST WORDS (All times and dates are GMT)

All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum

David Bentley, United Kingdom

When they’re striking over who should operate the doors it is time to re-evaluate the right to strike altogether. As for ‘Blame it on the Brexit,’ you are right. There is a concerted attempt to overturn democracy in this country right now and the unions are as much a part of it as the likes of Lammy, Geldof, Owen Smith and those from our business who won’t let sleeping dogs lie. They know who are they.

Jonathan Roberts, UK

A detailed analysis of the causes of Southern’s problem can be read here: http://www.londonreconnections.com/2016/railway-roulette/ Unfortunately this is not a simple, single issue.