UK train strikes disrupt travel but find public sympathy

Escalating cost-of-living crisis has triggered wave of industrial action, some public sympathy.

UK train strikes disrupt travel but find public sympathy

Travel was disrupted Saturday across the UK after another strike by transport workers as the increasingly acrimonious standoff between unions and the government continued.

The strikes were organized by the Rail, Maritime, and Transport (RMT), TSSA and Unite unions regarding pay and conditions.

It has affected railways across the country as well as bus services in London.

Saturday’s strike was the third in as many days by transport workers.

RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said he was “very sorry” that the public was inconvenienced but nevertheless hoped that “people have sympathy for us.”

“We’re ordinary men and women that want to do our jobs and provide a service, but when you’re being cut to pieces by an employer, and by the government, you’ve got to make a stand. We can’t stand by and watch our conditions be chopped up,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “All these strikes are doing is hurting those people the unions claim to represent, many of whom will again be out of pocket and forced to miss a day’s work.”
Anadolu Agency spoke to RMT National Executive member for the southeast region, Millie Apedo-Amah, as well as passengers at London Victoria train station in central London to get their views on the strikes.

‘The public are on our side’

“We are on strike due to government threatening cuts with railway jobs,” said Apedo-Amah.

She pointed to mooted cuts to ticket offices and platform staff, drawing attention to the negative effect it could have on vulnerable passengers, including the disabled and elderly.

“How are they going to purchase tickets?” she asked rhetorically. “Not everyone is comfortable to go to machines and use it.”

Apedo-Amah pushed back against claims in British media that workers on strike are highly paid.

“That is not true,” she said. “Station workers are on anything between £19K to £21k, so we’re not on that sort of wages that they’re talking about, we’re not drivers.”

Apedo-Amah said her picket outside London Victoria station, as well as strikes more generally, had “massive support.”

“Here at Victoria, the pubic are stopping, supporting us, asking us how they can donate into the strike fund just to help us because they know we’re losing money to fight for our jobs,” she said.

The backdrop to the strikes, and arguably public sympathy, is Britain’s escalating cost-of-living crisis.

“Inflation is sky-high, energy bills are up, we are struggling. We got members here working but at the end of the day going to food banks – and this is the UK,” she said.

Her demands for the government were “secure jobs and a pay uplift.”

Some RMT members had not had a pay hike in three years, she said.

The government will have to listen to the unions in the end, she said, “because the public is the government and the public are on our side.”

She said the strikes were already spreading across the union movement and that even lawyers were now striking because of pay and conditions.

Regarding the Conservative Party leadership race between former Chancellor Rishi Sunak and current Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to become the next prime minister, Apedo-Amah was unimpressed.

“They are not at all for working people,” she said. “They are for their mates.”

On Labour Party Leader Sir Keir Starmer, she said: “Well I’m not so sure but he is the Labour Party leader and we want him on our side.”

The Labour Party was borne out of the trade union movement but the RMT disaffiliated from the Labour Party in 2004. Starmer has instructed his shadow ministers not to attend pickets.

Brits weigh in

A passenger identified only as Joey, came from Devon to attend a concert in London. He said he was “absolutely” sympathetic to striking workers and believed the strike was about internal affairs regarding pay and conditions of transport workers as well as the wider cost-living-crisis.

“They’re well in their right, and they should be asking for pay rises. They’ve worked all the way through the pandemic. They keep everything running and they don’t get enough money,” he said.

“It’s inconvenienced me to a small degree but I’d rather they got paid what they deserve really,” he added.

Joey said he hoped the government would give in to the workers’ demands but it was hard to know at this point.

Nadia, who did not give her last name, said because of the strikes, she had to come to London by car, rather than on the train, and "had to pay for a parking space.”

She sympathized with the striking workers “up to a point.”

“I feel like they could maybe think of another way rather than affecting so many people,” she said. “I mean obviously, it’s a weekend today but in the week, people are trying to get to work and things like that.”

Nadia said everybody was being affected by the cost-of-living crisis.

“Whether you’re the lowest earner, highest earner, I don’t think there’s anybody not affected by it,” she said.

She blamed the government for the strikes and said ministers were not doing enough to find a solution to the strikes and the cost-of-living crisis.

Meanwhile, Beth detailed how she has been affected by the strikes.

“Yesterday, in particular, though it was quite difficult, it took me two and a half hours to get to Brixton from Harrow (areas in London),” she said.

“Even when you get off the train then all the buses are rammed and it’s really difficult to even get on a bus. It just impacts you negatively,” she added.

Nevertheless, she said she was “completely sympathetic” to striking workers.

“It’s about cost-of-living, but from what I understand of the train strikes, it’s that the workers aren’t just striking about money itself, they’re striking about the fact they’ve had mass increased responsibility for their jobs without the pay rise with inflation so I completely respect that,” she said.

She added: “The cost of living is becoming impossible.”

“I’m a teacher so I’m really behind unions. I think it is all on the government,” she said.

Regarding who would win -- she laughed.

“The government,” said Beth. “Because they always win.”