The RMT union have announced yet another strike to be staged on 23rd January 2017 in response to the train guard dispute and it's hard to greet this news without gritted teeth. I support what unions stand for and I certainly understand and respect the case ASLEF and the RMT have put forward regarding the train guard dispute but I can understand why everyday commuters trying to make an honest living may be frustrated with the situation that prevails. However, particularly for Londoners or those commuting into London, this represents a very long period of disruption that has quite literally ruined lives.
Unions have made it very clear they do not support Southern Railways plans to remove train guards from their trains but how much longer can this go on for? There is no doubt that driving a train carrying thousands of people is a demanding role. I've commuted using Southern Railway almost every day for over 11 years. I'm aware of how overcrowded services can be and I can see the argument for needing train guards now more than ever before. Try commuting between Balham Station and Streatham Common Station daily and see if you don't loose the will to live quite quickly. Without train guards on those services I'm not convinced passengers would be safe enough. Yes, driver operated trains have been deemed safe but I find it hard to believe they would be 'safer'. Which is what we should be aiming for right?
However, all of these disputes become irrelevant if there are no trains running in the first place. We've now had to endure an unprecedented amount of disruption, including entire days where not a single train has been running on the Southern Railway network. This has left commuters, including me, severely inconvenienced and in some cases unable to travel entirely. If you've got an office job which allows you to work from home it's quite possible you've been able to go on without too much stress. That's not the same story for thousands of people who don't have a flexible working arrangement. For some it's quite possible they've found another, no doubt crowded, and more expensive route. On the other hand, if you're freelance, working a zero hours contract or you've had to take those days off as unpaid leave it's more than just inconvenient. It puts you, and quite possibly others you love at risk. I think it takes quite a lot to put your career and livelihood to one side and support union strike regardless of how much you agree with them and support their intent.
It's fair to say it's come at the worse time possible. Business are already facing uncertainty with the economy following the UK's decision to exit the European Union and its fair to say that a huge amount of people who are working hard are still in living in poverty. At a time when the cost of living is high and many people are working low hours on low pay, against their will, it's sad to think that the people suffering most during this are people who are already struggling.
Who is to blame for the strikes you find yourself asking? Is it the unions for calling the strike and getting everyone else involved? Is it Southern Railway who appear to be putting profit before customers? Or is it the Government for failing the public and not getting to the bottom of this quickly enough? The evidence points to Southern Railway but one thing is clear, the poor service that Southern Railway continue to deliver, which may I add started long before the strikes or overtime ban, is showing no signs of ending anytime soon.