Later this month, Britain’s biggest rail union will deliver a hammer blow to the railways’ finances, future growth prospects and probably its own members’ jobs. By announcing three staggered strike days, they have designed the walkout to inflict the maximum possible disruption over the longest possible time to try to force ministers to bow to pay demands. The damage that this will inflict to future passenger confidence, perceived reliability and market share will be huge.
The similarities with Arthur Scargill’s disastrous year-long miner’s strike in 1984-5 and the railways today are clear. The strike ultimately led to the collapse of the coal industry as customers looked at more reliable suppliers and alternative fuels. Between 1985 and 2015, 170 collieries closed and more than 170,000 miners lost their jobs.
The parallel for rail workers is important, as the sector is in its weakest state since the end of the Second World War – especially after Britain’s railways were hit by the pandemic. Boris Johnson’s order to work from home resulted in a 77 per cent drop in rail use which particularly decimated the once highly lucrative five-day peak home counties commuter market. The income from this alone covered a large slice of the railways’ cost base and limited the need for more taxpayer support.
More than £16 billion of taxpayers’ cash has since been spent to keep the network running, despite the numbers commuting at peak times on weekdays standing at just 20 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
The unions are ignoring the existential threat faced by the railways. Hybrid working means passengers have choices that didn’t exist before, and prolonged strikes will inevitably drive more away. But rather than working with planners to try to win passengers back, the unions look hell-bent on fatally undermining future growth, which can only mean fewer trains and jobs.
Read more from Tony Lodge in The Telegraph
Date Added: Friday 17th June 2022