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Daily View: Rail strikes and the election

Clare Spencer | 10:25 UK time, Friday, 26 March 2010

Rail workersRailway signal workers have voted in favour of strikes after Easter in a row over jobs and safety. Commentators look at the timing and significance of the industrial action.

Adrian Hamilton in the Independent thinks the strikes will be self-defeating but timing the strike before the election is rational:

"But it is precisely because they could harm the Government that the unions are embarking on a round of confrontation. If you are going to strike - most especially in the public sector - do it now when ministers may intervene to pressure both sides for a settlement, rather than after the election when the public expenditure cuts will bite. Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson or Lord Adonis may see the need politically to condemn the strikers, but they are also working the phones begging the employers, as much as the employees, to come to terms."

The Telegraph editorial is not alone in drawing comparisons to 1979:

"Does history repeat itself? The echoes of 1979 - national bankruptcy and strikes - are growing increasingly loud. It was, of course, when Labour last handed over power to the Tories."

Robert Taylor in Tribune magazine points out one difference between the 1979 strikes and now:

"Most people's perceptions of what has been happening comes from media coverage on television and in the newspapers. This has been overwhelmingly hostile to the strikers and their union. That should come as no surprise. Even in the alleged era of union power 30 years ago, the unions were mostly the object of media hostility.
But there is one important difference now compared with then: the absence of labour or industrial correspondents. No daily newspaper outside the Morning Star has an accredited labour reporter."

Tom Winsor in the Times blames Stephen Byers and Alistair Darling for the effect on public finances:

"A national signallers' strike will cost Network Rail £10 million a day in financial compensation to the train operators. In the days of Railtrack and the 1994 strike, the RMT knew that this could wipe out shareholders' annual profits in a fortnight. Now that Mr Darling and Mr Byers have replaced shareholders with taxpayers, the financial hit will all come home to the public. Well done, Mr Byers and Mr Darling, aided and abetted at the time by Andrew (now Lord) Adonis - the Marx Brothers of national rail policy, in at least two senses."

Leo McKinstry in the Daily Mail argues that a new wave of confidence is sweeping through the union movement:

"Filled with contempt for democracy, they are ruthlessly exploiting their strength over a badly weakened Government.
Through their cash, they have a stranglehold over Labour. Through their industrial muscle, they are causing misery to the public."

The Economist leader article says the strike shouldn't ruin Britain's economy as wider issues are at stake:

"Yet Britain is not doomed to slink along the bottom of the European league. Its vulnerability to the crisis sprang from its overextended banks, its overindebted private sector and its overweight public sector. The first two of those imbalances are starting to right themselves. The third, for which Gordon Brown is largely responsible, will probably fall to his successor to correct, since the electorate seems minded to turf him out. So long as the next government tackles the problem courageously, Britain's prospects do not look too bad; for the openness and flexibility first fostered by Margaret Thatcher should allow the economy to regain some of its former strength."

Links in full

IndependentAdrian Hamilton | Independent | Self-defeating, but not irrational
TelegraphTelegraph | A spring of discontent
TimesTom Winsor | Times | Blame Stephen Byers and Alistair Darling for this rail strike
MailLeo McKinstry | Daily Mail | How the hard-left closed in on Number 10
EconomistEconomist | Out of the ruins
TribuneRobert Taylor | Tribune Magazine | Make strike coverage labour intensive

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