Rail strikes: More competition could see unrest become a thing of the past
Rail strikes do not need to become the new normal
Snow rarely brings great joy to commuters, so it was particularly ironic that one of the more dramatic dumps of the white stuff came on the only day this week when union workers won’t bring their own version of the deep freeze to our railways. The launch of a string of strikes, confirmed last night by the RMT, will decimate an already battered hospitality sector and do little for Britain’s global esteem.
But it is surely time for somebody in government to take responsibility. At the moment, the strategy seems to be to write a column every time the unions go out on strike urging a compromise, and then to do precious little to create one. It will not surprise regular readers of this column that we are not fans of the government interfering in much beyond what it absolutely has to, and we’d not usually be in favour of Westminster intervention in disputes between a union and private rail companies.
But our railways are not run by normal private companies; they are for all intents and purposes monopolies (often not particularly well-run ones) and reliant either directly or indirectly on state support.
That being the case, ministers can no longer hold their hands up and say nothing to do with me, guv; it is beholden on them instead to bring the bosses of rail companies and the militant union leaders around a suitably well-polished table and bang some heads together to end these rail strikes. Britain is turning into some kind of strike island, and it’s high time that changed.
But there is more to do. John Penrose, a Tory MP, has suggested that much of the blame for this ongoing industrial dispute comes from a lack of competition on the railways. It’s a compelling argument; if two companies were able to operate on the tracks used (sparingly) by Avanti, it is hard to imagine that customers would not have voted with their feet to use the theoretical other firm – similarly, such competition would probably be good for workers, too. That is for the future, though – for now, it is time for action.