The RMT holds a protest outside parliament to argue the case for keeping guards on trains. To go with Josh Spero copy. Picture shows: RMT General Secretary, Mick Cash, joining protesters outside parliament.
The RMT holds a protest outside parliament over keeping guards on trains © Charlie Bibby/FT

The campaign of strikes that has plagued Southern rail entered its third year on Wednesday.

To mark the occasion, Mick Cash, the head of the 83,000-member RMT transport workers union announced another wave of strikes for May.

He vowed that protests against running trains without guards on board would continue for “as long as it takes”.

At a protest outside parliament, Angela Taylor, a commuter who uses a wheelchair, said taking guards off trains made it “impossible” for her to travel. “There are lots of unmanned stations, and the guard puts out the ramp for the wheelchair,” she said.

The RMT holds a protest outside parliament to argue the case for keeping guards on trains. To go with Josh Spero copy. Picture shows: Angela Taylor
Angela Taylor says taking guards off trains makes it 'impossible' for her to travel. 'There are lots of unmanned stations, and the guard puts out the ramp for the wheelchair' © Charlie Bibby/FT

An RMT official on strike with Northern rail, who declined to give his name, said the waves of strikes were also costing workers in the form of lost wages. “You tighten your belt accordingly; everyone has to make sacrifices — the passengers do as well to some degree.”

Passengers using Southern services were less sanguine. Ursula, a commuter at East Croydon, said: “Ultimately there’s millions of people [affected by strikes] versus a few hundred workers, so you have to go with the majority.”

Southern rail vox-pop with Josh Spero on the second anniversary of the start of strike action. Picture shows: Andy Cockerell at East Croydon
Andy Cockerell: 'I’m very much less sympathetic to the unions and the drivers — I can recognise that there are issues of safety, having just the driver on the train, but there needs to be a balanced view' © Charlie Bibby/FT

Andy Cockerell, another commuter, said: “I’m very much less sympathetic to the unions and the drivers — I can recognise that there are issues of safety, having just the driver on the train, but there needs to be a balanced view . . . We’re the only ones who get affected.”

The new strikes on May 9 will affect Northern, Greater Anglia and South Western Railway, with four more days of industrial action on South Western Railway in the following 10 days.

Southern rail vox-pop with Josh Spero on the second anniversary of the start of strike action. Picture shows: Ursula at East Croydon
Ursula, a commuter at East Croydon, said: 'Ultimately there’s millions of people [affected by strikes] versus a few hundred workers, so you have to go with the majority' © Charlie Bibby/FT

The union did not announce further strikes on Southern, which has experienced 40 days of industrial action over two years, but a union official said its campaign was not finished and it would “listen to our members” when planning new dates. Northern has had 18 days of strikes in the past year.

The Rail Delivery Group called the strikes an “attempt to undermine rail companies working together to deliver major changes and improvements for customers and communities”. It said Southern had already changed to trains where drivers operate the doors and that the move had not affected safety.

Govia Thameslink Railway, parent company of Southern, is trying to balance annoyance at the strikes with the suggestion that they are ineffective anyway. Andy Bindon, GTR’s human resources director, called the industrial action “pointless” and added: “Southern ran a normal service on most of its routes on the last day of action, with 95 per cent of trains in the strike day timetable and the vast majority of employees coming to work.”

Mr Bindon said GTR had made “numerous offers” to the RMT, “none of which has been put to their members”.

The RMT holds a protest outside parliament to argue the case for keeping guards on trains. To go with Josh Spero copy. Picture shows: Wigan MP Lisa Nandy.
Labour MP Lisa Nandy: 'This couldn’t matter more to the future of our railways. It’s connected to the idea of a railway that works as a public service open to everybody' © Charlie Bibby/FT

The Department for Transport also said the strikes were “pointless” and urged “the union to abandon these strikes and work with train operators to improve services for passengers”.

But the unions and their supporters are determined to persist. At the protest, Lisa Nandy, MP for Wigan, where Northern runs a service, said: “This couldn’t matter more to the future of our railways. It’s connected to the idea of a railway that works as a public service open to everybody. I will continue to support them until they win.”

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