It’s been a hell of a week on the country’s railways. As the biggest rail strikes in 30 years entered their third day on Saturday, around 80 per cent of services have been cut, and the country’s train stations resemble ghost towns.
Manchester Piccadilly was no different.
And the debate, as all modern controversies do, has moved past the picket lines and negotiating table, and spilled onto social media. If you started the week not knowing who Mick Lynch is, there’s a good chance you do now.
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The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) are in a dispute over jobs, pay, and conditions. But where has the industrial action of the last week left them? The answer is pretty unclear. Just this morning, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said “there’s a long way to go yet” in negotiations, during an interview with Sky News Breakfast.
He said the union will continue to engage in a “constructive dialogue,” but warned that they must be careful about what they called progress.
“Most of the stuff our members voted very heavily in favor for action about what’s on the table now and they have not diluted very much the stuff they want and that’s true of the train operators and Network Rail,” he said.
And rail workers standing on the picket lines in Manchester this week have been keen to highlight how getting what they want out of the action benefits rail users as well as workers.
Speaking to the MEN earlier this week, Dalbir Dhillon who is the assistant branch secretary for the RMT at the Manchester Victoria branch, said:
“If we accepted their offer, we’d have to agree to all ticket offices being closed across the country, and our pensions ages being increased by another three years after only just having it being increased by another two years back in 2016.
“We’re not against the idea of modernisation, we just want to negotiate it.”
Northern train guard Steve Shaw, who has been in his job for nearly 30 years, told the MEN that rail staff are key workers and have been “let down”.
“Like everyone else we’re feeling it, but I just feel like we’ve been let down by the Government,” he said.
“As train guards we are frontline staff. We worked throughout the pandemic. People got seriously ill with covid. To be fair to the company (Northern) they put measures in place to help keep us safe.
Off the picket lines, government ministers are making their take on the strikes clear. Yesterday evening, transport secretary Grant Shapps called on the RMT to cancel today’s strike, branding the action “unwarranted” and accused them of “damaging the lives of everyday hardworking people that they claim to represent”.
And the bitter debate continued onto the airwaves, with Kevin Groves, head of media at Network Rail, telling Times Radio Breakfast: “Negotiation is about give and take, and at the moment the RMT are just take, take, take.”
But the views from the public are far more mixed. Mick Lynch has received widespread praise for his interview appearances across the spectrum of British broadcast media – most notably putting impressive shows in front of Piers Morgan and Kay Burley in clips that have since gone viral.
Commuters in Manchester largely threw their support behind the strike earlier this week, with even those badly affected telling the MEN “it’s the only way workers can be heard”.
With travel chaos set to continue today, where the dispute goes from here isn’t obvious. Both sides appear keen to dig their heels in, with each accusing the other of failing to listen.
“We will review where we are in discussions next week and then we will decide if we need to take more action,” Mick Lynch said this morning.
So if one thing is for sure, it’s that the fight is likely to rumble on for some time.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.