Tom Haines-Doran
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Why are there so many strikes?
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In recent years, the railways have been marred by long-running strikes, which have impacted significantly on rail services. The most impactful of the strikes have been a result of rail trade unions seeking to prevent the reduction of staff employed in running services, especially on-board staff such as guards and conductors. Since the mid-2000s, the majority of train operating companies have attempted to install ‘driver-only operation’ – services run without guards. To some, the militant response of the main union – the RMT – represents a bygone era of trade unionism and impacts unfairly on passengers. But this is to disregard important aspects of railway history and politics. Indeed, one of the principal motivations of privatisation was to decrease the collective organising power of rail workers, by fragmenting their bargaining power through outsourcing and franchising. However, despite being a disaster for many rail workers, privatisation has not been as successful in attacking the workforce as was originally hoped, and this is in no small part thanks to the democratisation of the RMT and its subsequent increased willingness to organise strikes and strike ballots. When rail workers go on strike, the rail companies they work for are compensated by the government for any loss of revenue that results. This explains the longevity of strikes – the determination and collective organisational capacity of rail workers has been up against the vast financial resources of the state. The chapter ends by showing that guards are very important for maintaining the accessibility of services.

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How to fix Britain’s broken railways


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