The Unions and the railways!

Concluding this 3 part whistle stop tour of the state of the railways is a look at the unions. A force for good or a hinderance to the industry? I would argue the latter!

I am not against unions per-se but I see too much power in some and absolutely no power in others leading to either greed destroying the industry (railways) or continuing poor conditions for workers in other sectors (retail). I have worked in retail management and the railway industry. In retail, hours are long, the work is hard, pay and conditions are crap! Retail has unions such as USDAW. Why do conditions in the retail sector therefore not improve. Simple answer is that if Asda employees were taken out on strike by USDAW, shoppers would go to Tesco that day. It would be self-defeating and prolonged action could jeopardise their jobs. Consumers do not care about Workers plights. Most people are in a similar boat and days of solidarity between workers in different sectors are long gone. I wouldn’t go without my £3 meal deal if Tesco were on strike when Sainsbury do a better sandwich anyway. Hence retail pay and conditions remain poor!

On the other hand one might argue most rail passengers have a choice between taking the car or the train, buses offer some competition on local rail journeys or the likes of Megabus and National Express compete with long distance rail services but in reality rail has a captive market for commuters. To get from my West Yorkshire town to Leeds is 30 mins, £6 return and every half hour by rail. By bus would be 2 buses, up to 2hours journey time in the peak where as the car would be 60 minutes each way in the peak, £10 petrol and up to £15 to park. A captive market. You may be prepared to take an alternative on a one off railway strike day but the long and short of the matter is the rail unions have the power to bring a large chunk of the country to a standstill. That is their primary motive for renationalisation calls so that they have the power to bring the whole country to its knees as is currently the case in France with national operator SNCF.

They hide behind safety, despite the UK’s railways being the safest in Europe. When was the last time you witnessed, were involved in, read of or heard of a car accident? Now think about when was the last time you heard of a rail incident? National Geographic even manage an Aircrash Investigation every night but would struggle to make railway disaster TV that didn’t date back to the days of steam!

The truth is Unions resist any kind of modernisation that would enhance the railway for passengers or threaten their hegemonic rule. Drivers are the railway industry’s shop floor but unlike the retail industry’s shop floor staff who are paid minimum wage per hour, train drivers get £50K a year, voluntary Sunday’s and a whole range of perks including a scam of doing a few extra hours a day in exchange for blocks of weeks of rest days. If drivers don’t like their roster they have groups that dictate back to management to get it changed. In retail if you dictate what hours you are working to your manager you would be at the job centre the next day!

Train drivers spend their working lives trying not to drive trains. If they book on too early they get fatigue (bless em’ ) and this fatigue can only be relieved by a premium payment for early starts!?! Even Labour -the party of the unions has today announced the UK workforce are not productive enough!

Behind all the safety talk , unions regurgitate the fact is a monkey could be trained (pardon the pun) to drive a train. There are so many safety features onboard the train a child couldn’t cause an accident whilst driving it. We would probably have mainline driverless trains by now if it wasn’t for the unions stuck in Victorian times. The Victoria line London Underground route is automatic and whereas line 14 on the Paris Metro is controlled from a control centre the unions have agitated for a train operator on a drivers salary who sits in the cab of every Victoria Line train opening and closing the doors. Ever wondered why your train fare keeps rising. The unions are always quick to talk of fat cat bonuses for executives in the privatised rail industry but fail to mention their members on the bottom rung of the food chain are taking home over £50K a year!

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