Matthew Lee says members he represents are facing huge cost increases. Image: Eliza Pitkin/Big Issue
Railway workers across the country have gone on strike in the biggest walkout in 30 years.
Some regions of the country have no trains at all, with 80 per cent of scheduled trains across the country not running.
On a hot June day, the disruption from the RMT union strikes has been well-noted. One A-level student is reportedly planning a four-and-a-half-hour journey to get to her maths exam. A group of Spanish students say they’re going to walk 25 kilometres, so they don’t miss out on the Beatles store.
But staff talk of tough decisions to go on strike over pay which hasn’t risen in years while food and fuel keep going up, of pensions, and reforms to the railway.
At the picket line outside London’s King’s Cross, striking workers explain why they’re out – and what’s at stake.
‘I’m striking, more than anything else, for dignity’
Morgan Paulett earns £21,000 a year “hoofing luggage”, as he put it, or, in corporate jargon, as a “station support assistant”.
The 22-year old was on the picket line, he said, “more than anything else, for dignity”.
“There has been no change in pay over the last three years because workers have been subject to a pay freeze,” he told The Big Issue.
“Most of all, even though pay is a big issue for me personally, the cuts they are going to make to the railways are going to be incredibly dangerous.”
Paulett brings up examples of children with balloons running towards dangerous lines with no platform staff to stop them, fewer trains running, and says cuts to ticket offices will mean people who have missed trains or had late connections have nowhere to go for help.
He added: “If you have less staff like me on the platforms, you have less ability to get people in wheelchairs a ramp to the train.”
‘All of my costs in life have gone up and my pay has not’
Matthew Lee works on board trains and is an RMT rep. He described the decision to go on strike as “a huge deal for many people.”
Lee said: “All of my costs in life have gone up and my pay has not. When you buy something in the shop which you always buy and suddenly it costs 25 per cent more, that has a real impact on your quality of life.
He recalled a conversation with a member who he represents whose rent has just been put up from £1,000 per month to £1,250 per month.
“That is a massive increase. I represent people who are not paid huge amounts of money. This is really difficult for people,” he said.
“They do not want to be out on strike. They do not want to give up a day’s pay but they really feel strongly that now is the time to take action and get these issues addressed.”
‘We have no other way of fighting this’
“We don’t want to inconvenience anyone, we don’t want to lose the money we lose on a strike day,” said Jarrod Wood, who has worked on the London Underground for 22 years.
But Wood, now an RMT rep, added: “We have no other way of fighting this. We can march, we can protest, we can write letters. People do all those things, it does not change anything.
“What I would ask people to remember is that really we are all on the same side here.”
Citing cost of living and work problems which affect people 365 days a year, Wood said: “If we have to strike a few days and that pushes the government into reverse and forces them to confront some of these issues, then I think all working people will benefit.”
‘People in the industry risked their lives coming into work during Covid – this feels like a kick in the teeth’
George Welch has worked in the rail industry for 19 years. During the pandemic he saw colleagues put themselves at risk to keep things running. But now he feels they’re not being rewarded.
“A lot of people in the industry worked during Covid. They risked their lives coming into work, and it just seems like a kick in the teeth,” he said.
Withdrawing his labour, he argued, is simply the same as what would happen if any other supplier’s costs weren’t met.
“Industry costs have gone up, we are a cost as well – the cost of the labour,” Welch said. “We are entitled, as are any workers in the country – to a decent pay rise. That doesn’t have a negative effect on our society.”
Your local vendor is at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis this Christmas. Prices of energy and food are rising rapidly. As is the cost of rent. All at their highest rate in 40 years. Vendors are amongst the most vulnerable people affected. Support our vendors to earn as much as they can and give them a fighting chance this Christmas.