CROYDON COMMENTARY: Like thousands of other local commuters, CATHERINE SHELLEY has been affected by the long-running rail dispute. She says that the real problem lies with Southern Rail’s mismanagement, aided by the Tory Government
On a weekday evening at Victoria Station shortly before Christmas, and not for the first time, a series of trains was cancelled, one after the other. A young mum on the platform, who was going to be delayed collecting her young son went into meltdown with the panic and frustration of the situation.
Other passengers got angry too and surrounded a pair of female southern rail staff. The staff were also upset as they, too, were trying to get to Clapham Junction for their next shift, just as frustrated as the rest of the crowds on the platform.
The Tannoy announced that the cancellations were caused by drivers not being available, giving the impression that they were having a break or hadn’t turned up for work. In fact, the drivers were all stuck on other trains, trying to get back to Victoria after untold other delays and breakdowns earlier in the day.
If you travel on Southern Rail services, you will recognise this situation and all too often the frontline staff of the train companies get the blame and end up being abused by frustrated and angry commuters. Yet they are trapped in this mess just as much as any passenger, trying their best to make an impossible situation work.
Staff and passengers are in this together.
The daily disruption to services on non-strike days is evidence that the strikes are not the real issue. The management’s approach of criticising staff for not working overtime and continually blaming the drivers for not being available when that is often beyond their control is no way to address the problems of Southern Rail.
The Government deliberately designed the agreement with Govia Thameslink, who operate Southern, so that their profits don’t suffer no matter how bad the service gets. This means they have no incentive to reach any settlement or even negotiate with unions. And so the dispute continues to drag on.
The hypocrisy of the Government’s approach is clear. When the private owners cut corners and let the service fall apart month after month, the Government refuses to intervene. But as soon staff working on our railways act to protect our safety, Tory MPs start demanding that strikes should be banned because the railways are a vital public service.
We understand that strikes cause disruption for commuters, but the industrial action is a symptom, not the cause, of the problems on our railways.
The people working on the railways can see how the cuts to staff and changes to working practices are reducing levels of service and increasing the risk of accidents. The issue of driver-only trains is only one concern; to run a service dependent on staff working significant overtime also carries obvious safety implications. That is why we in the Croydon and Sutton Green Party support their industrial action.
The railways are a vital public service and so they should be run in the interests of all of us – passengers and staff – and not just to make profits for shareholders and pay bonuses to overpaid CEOs.
It’s time to end the failed privatisation model and start providing the railway service we all want and need. You can sign our petition here to bring control and accountability for rail services back into public hands.
- Catherine Shelley is the co-chair of Croydon and Sutton Greens
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