The planned rail reforms fall into four broad sections: pension reform, downsizing, striking new wage deals and plans to close hundreds of station ticket offices.
A government source said: “There is a very strong feeling…that we need to create a sustainable rail system for the future. We need to create a railroad that works for everyone. And that includes all the passengers and taxpayers who have supported it so far. We have to if we are to be realistic about having a railway that will last for generations to come.
Sources within the industry and in Whitehall say the RMT in particular ‘leapfrogged’ by voting for industrial action before serious talks had begun.
Nevertheless, the threat could not be more real. Another leading rail source says: “Inflation has suddenly run rampant. And it unfortunately collided with the first time in almost 30 years [a situation] where the government directly funds all elements of the [rail] industry.
“The union bosses are under a lot of pressure from the railway workers; who are not used to having salary freezes. They will get a stoning warrant [to strike].”
The operators fear that they will once again be the government’s scapegoat. In a long-running dispute with the RMT several years ago, the bosses were criticized by then Transport Secretary Chris Grayling for failing to break the deadlock.
The hope is that Whitehall realizes things are different this time around.
“It’s ultimately government driven,” a source at a carrier said. “This requires a very clear political commitment. It is absolutely critical to success or failure that the government, if they go down this road to push through the changes that we all think the industry needs… push them through.
“If this is removed mid-term when the going gets tough, you will have stronger unions,” they add. “If they bottle it halfway, we’re in a bad place.”
A source at another operator adds: “Who will take the blame? This will turn into a blame game. Will your local rail company end up being the next P&O Ferries in the eyes of everyday commuters? »
A government source responds: “There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes. This is something that has been thought through right up to the top of the government.
“Downing Street is involved in the planning. It conveys how seriously this is taken.
It is believed that the government’s plans for the strikes will feature prominently at this week’s Cabinet meeting.
What further complicates matters is that it is not just train operators who are facing a strike. Crucially, workers at Network Rail, the state-backed owner of tracks, stations and other key infrastructure, could opt out of plans to cut 2,500 jobs.
While operators will still be able to perform skeletal services on strike days, the specter of signal workers tearing down tools has more serious repercussions, with freight and passenger services crippled nationwide .
“The big challenge for the government will be a Network Rail strike, which frankly is why there hasn’t been one since 1994. That’s where the courage of the government is going to be put to the test. ordeal,” a source said.
The Prime Minister knows that the country could quickly turn against him if the generalized strikes drag on. Despite strong rhetoric internally, the fear is that Boris Johnson will cave under the weight of public opinion.
“We have seen this government say this on many issues and then 36 hours later change its mind,” the source adds.
Rail operators, Network Rail and the government fear the chaotic summer could easily turn into autumn as both sides take increasingly entrenched positions.
“The danger is that once we get into this dispute, anything resembling a reasonable offer – [union leaders] will struggle to sell to their members,” the source said. “That’s why it’s going to be a hell of a fight.”
An RMT spokesperson said: “The protest stunts outside Unity House are staged by a former staff member who was dismissed for gross misconduct as part of the RMT staff disciplinary process, which is collectively agreed with our unions recognised.
“As a responsible organization, the RMT expects employed staff to conduct themselves appropriately and all staff are subject to our agreed procedures.
“The terminated former employee has filed a number of claims with an employment tribunal, and these will be dealt with in due course.”