Rail strikes that have crippled the UK are a “last resort” for unions exhausted by years of low wage growth, bosses and members say.
More than 9,000 workers affiliated with the drivers’ union Aslef (Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen) and the Transport Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) took industrial action today.
The TSSA has also planned to go on strike tomorrow and Friday.
The two unions represent conductors and other railway workers in 12 transport companies and throw travel plans for millions into chaos.
Most drivers have not received a pay raise since 2019 and with prices soaring, Aslef leaders and members told Metro.co.uk that strikes are their only option.
Aslef argues that its members are taking a real pay cut while inflation is hovering in double digits at 9.9% and fuel and food costs are skyrocketing.
Union leaders feel their problems have only gotten worse since Liz Truss’ budget sent the pound into a tailspin.
Mike Whelan, Secretary General of Aslef, had some choice words for the PM when he called on her government to intervene.
Speaking outside London’s King Cross, he said: “You’re destroying the economy, your tax cuts are for the rich.
“Never mind taking away the 45% or so, the other unfunded tax cuts will destroy people’s ability to stay in their homes, whether they have a mortgage or are renters.”
Mr Whelan added: “Because of you we already have a society and a country where work doesn’t pay.
“Wages and average conditions have fallen by 27.5% over the last 10 years. We have 2.5 million children in the sixth richest nation in the world who don’t eat every day.
“You can do something about it. We can help you do something about it. If not, get out of the way and let someone else do it.’
Like many Britons, the cost of living crisis has hit railway workers hard, Mr Whelan said.
“They all have families. They all have people who rely on them. A lot of them put their kids through college, a lot of them on big mortgages,” he said.
“Train conductors just have enough, and after three years without pay they feel entitled to something,” he added.
Mr Whelan said today’s strikes were not just a response to the current economic turmoil under Ms Truss’s oversight.
“I laugh when I hear Jacob Rees-Mogg say they’ve only been in power for 28 days – they’ve been here for 12 years. 12 years of thrift. 12 years of increased costs,” he said.
But railway workers are not alone. Garbage collectors and criminal defense lawyers are among those who have led large-scale strikes in recent months.
This labor unrest is another test for Ms Truss, who has promised to launch a new crackdown on strikes.
Ms Truss, who has tried to emulate Margaret Thatcher, has been looking for ways to make it more difficult and time-consuming to organize a strike and to tax the strike pay that members receive for not going to work .
“We actually have the worst union laws in Europe, if not the world, right now,” Whelan said.
“In addition, we have the protest law [Police and Crime Bill]we have the Lobbying and Transparency Bill.
“But aren’t workers and protesters also voters? And when you raise your voice, aren’t you telling the government, ‘We could be dissatisfied with you’?
“If you lose that, the opportunity to do that, you’re a poorer society,” he added.
Howard Kaye, a member of the Executive Committee for District Five, which covers East Anglia, said: “We’re not bad people, we just represent the working people.
“This is a last, last resort where everything else collapsed.”
Mr Kaye said he understood why train drivers’ salaries are so often the focus of attention – the average driver’s salary in the UK is around £50,000.
“I admit we have a pretty good base salary, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.
But Mr Kaye said the rail sector’s fight for a pay rise is part of a broader fight among British workers for better working conditions.
“We are talking about essential workers, cleaners, nurses and public sector workers whose wages have not increased during the pandemic and who are now being hit hard,” he said.
Chris Monroe, 55, a local representative for the area and a driver, said he had one reason for joining the picket line: his family.
“I’ve been a railroader for 40 years and I hope the end of my career is in sight,” he said.
“But my wife and I are starting to worry if we’re going to have a good enough pension to live on.
“A lot of people are struggling right now and hopefully our argument will benefit other people as this is a bigger cause.”
Job action was something Mr Monroe grew up with as a kid in the Thatcher years – but today’s strikes have taken him by surprise.
He said: “I can’t remember a time in my life where people who actually have pretty good wages were like, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to get through this. It’s bizarre.”
“It affects everyone across the country. It’s unprecedented.’
He added, “We’ve had a lot of middle-class and maybe what you would equate with upper-class people who stopped and said, ‘We see this can’t go on any longer.’
Almost half of Brits support rail workers taking action to improve their wages and working conditions, according to a survey, and Mr Monroe believes this is only going to increase.
“Hopefully the tide turns and things could get better at some point,” he said, “and not a minute too soon.”
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https://metro.co.uk/2022/10/05/rail-strikes-train-drivers-have-had-enough-says-union-boss-17507782/ Rail strikes: "The train drivers have had enough," says union boss