The railway reforms under consideration fall into four broad parts: pension reform, staff reductions, the approval of new wage agreements and plans to close hundreds of cash desks at stations.
A government source says: ‘We feel very strongly’ that we need to create a rail system that is sustainable in the future. We need to create a railway that works for everyone. This includes all passengers and taxpayers who have supported it up to this point. We have to do this if we want to be realistic about the existence of a railway that will last for future generations. “
Industry and Whitehall say the RMT in particular “jumped out of the rifle” by voting on the protest before meaningful discussions began.
Yet the threat could not be more real. Another high-ranking railroad source says, “Inflation has suddenly risen. And that, unfortunately, collided for the first time in almost 30 years [a situation] where the government directly finances all the elements [rail] industry.
“The union bosses are under a lot of pressure from the railroad workers; who are not used to the salary freeze. They will be given a strict mandate [to strike]. “
Operators fear they could be the bait of the government again. During a long-running dispute with the RMT a few years ago, bosses were criticized by Chris Grayling, then secretary of transportation, for failing to break the stalemate.
We hope Whitehall realizes that things are different this time.
“It is ultimately controlled by the government,” said one source. “It simply came to our notice then. It is absolutely essential for success or failure that the government, if it sets out on this path to promote the changes that we all think the industry needs, will drive them away.
“If it pulls in half when it gets tough, you’ll have unions that are stronger,” they add. “If it fills in half, we’re in the wrong place.”
A source from another operator adds: “Who will be to blame? This turns into a blame game. Will your local railway company become another P&O Ferries in the eyes of daily commuting? ”
A government source replies: “A lot of work is being done behind the scenes. This is something that has been thought of up to the highest government.
“Downing Street is involved in the planning. That brings home a point about how serious it is. “
The government’s plans for strikes are expected to come first at a cabinet meeting this week.
What is further complicated by the fact that it is not just train operators who are facing protests. Crucially, employees of Network Rail, a state-sponsored owner of lines, stations and other critical infrastructure, were able to leave due to plans to cut 2,500 jobs.
While operators will continue to be able to operate basic services on strike days, the specter of signal workers shooting down tools has more serious implications for freight and passenger services to come to a halt nationwide.
“The big challenge for the government will be the Network Rail strike, which, frankly, is why it hasn’t happened since 1994. This is where the government’s nervousness will be tested,” the source said.
The prime minister knows that the country could turn against him quickly if the area strikes drag on. Despite strong internal rhetoric, there is a fear that Boris Johnson will fall under the weight of public opinion.
“We have seen this government say that it changed its mind on many issues and then 36 hours later,” the source added.
Train operators, Network Rail and the government fear that a summer full of chaos could easily turn to autumn, as both sides are taking stronger positions.
“The danger is that once we get into this dispute, whatever sounds like a reasonable offer – [union leaders] it will have a problem selling them to its members, “says the source. “That’s why it’s going to be a hell of a fight.”
An RMT spokesman said: “Protest stunts in front of Unity House are being held by a former staff member who has been fired for gross misconduct through disciplinary action by RMT employees, which is collectively agreed with our recognized unions.
“As a responsible organization, RMT expects employees to behave appropriately and all employees to be subject to our agreed procedures.
“The dismissed former employee has made a number of complaints to the Labor Tribunal and these will be dealt with in due course.”