Dear Bob Horton: We the customers blame you the managers for the rail dispute, so stop playing Rambo and settle with the signal workers, a commuter tells the chairman of Railtrack

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
After six long, hot weeks, I'm pretty fed up with the rail strike. The current extension - to 48 hours - appals me. Industry and commerce are equally concerned, calculating millions of pounds in lost business.

But most of all, I am fed up with you. When the first strike coincided with the onset of hot weather, it didn't seem so bad. A cartoonist drew a sketch of two skivers relaxing in their garden, toasting the signal workers. But now it is way past a joke. I want to function efficiently, to get from home to work in the quickest way possible: for me that is by British Rail. Instead, on strike days, my travel-time is doubled, and the cost is trebled.

Normally I walk around the corner to a charming, if vandalised, station and get a train straight to town. Now it's a combination of bus/two Tubes/taxi, or I hitch a lift part-way with my husband (he's forced to drive). All these extra vehicles driving into city centres, by the way, are adding to the pollution.

I suspect your intransigent approach has lengthened the dispute, and further undermined people's belief in the efficacy of public transport. I can hardly turn on the telly without being confronted by your antipatico manner. You were recently stumped by a question from the Employment Select Committee about what a signal worker earns.

It was BR which encouraged us travellers to think of ourselves as customers, rather than passengers. Isn't it time you took your message to heart, and started thinking at boardroom level about us, the customers, and the service we need, rather than the pursuit of Ramboesque managerial settlement? Those sort of techniques may have worked at your previous employers - BP - but they won't wash with the railways.

I've read about the signal workers' low pay and about their productivity gains, about the fears, accepted by the new Transport Secretary, Brian Mawhinney, that some will lose out under your new working conditions. Screwing down the people who do the work has become one of the most unattractive features of life in Nineties Britain. All this explains why the public has turned against the managers in this dispute.

The hard truth is that strikes, especially prolonged ones, are a sign of managerial failure. It should not be necessary, in today's climate, when workers are cowed, unemployment high and labour law so restrictive, to provoke a key set of people so that you reach an industrial-relations meltdown.

When poorly-paid workers feel so strongly that they are willing to pay such penalties in lost earnings, something has gone wrong at the top. The BBC was recently overwhelmed by the degree of support for strikes by technicians and journalists. Wisely, the management hurriedly modified their proposals.

You need to follow suit. Letters restating your position to Jimmy Knapp are all very well, but as long as the strike continues, we are all losers.

Maggie Brown

(Photograph omitted)

Comments