Montage of railways lines and an RMT member on strike
Readers are split between those who support rail workers standing up for themselves and those who feel the unions have too much power © FT montage: AP/EFE-EPA/Shutterstock

Network Rail staff and workers at 13 UK train operating companies walked out in a dispute over pay, working practices and possible redundancies twice this week, with a further strike planned on Saturday. London Underground staff also went on strike on Tuesday.

The announcement of the strikes triggered hundreds of comments from FT readers, with views split between those who supported rail workers standing up for themselves and those who felt they were seeking preferential treatment and that the unions have too much power.

Views on the effects of the strikes ranged from commenters who said working from home had diminished the power of the RMT union, to a father who said the delays were creating a new group of Conservative voters among frustrated schoolchildren.

There was talk of a “summer of discontent” in the UK, as public sector unions representing doctors, nurses and teachers also tested the sentiment for walkouts, and readers were focused on the topics of pay and inflation. Some said that higher pay would increase the rate of price growth, while others argued that the increasing cost of living meant that workers had no choice but to demand more money to survive.

UK business writer Cat Rutter Pooley concluded that tensions across industries were inevitable, but employers could do better than the government “if they pay up when they can, are upfront about when they can’t, and play nice”.

A range of reader comments are published below. Join the conversation by sharing your views in the comment section.

Why should the workers pay the price?

I am 100 per cent behind the strikers. Any pay rise less than 11 per cent is a pay cut. Why should the workers pay the price for the government and Bank’s deliberate inflation of asset prices for 20 years? If the government wants 2 per cent pay rises then they should deliver 2 per cent inflation. But of course they won’t, because to do so would risk a fall in the asset prices of the rich Boomers. So inflation it is for Britain, and workers shouldn’t get screwed. — TheSadTruth

The workforce is pretty ‘hacked off’

The unions would be downright negligent to accept what currently seems to be on offer: “accept changes to working practices to make us more efficient and as a reward you can have a 2 per cent pay rise when inflation is 10 per cent and more”. It must be pointed out there was a huge majority for this strike ballot, which suggests the workforce is pretty hacked off and this isn’t just militant hard-left union leaders causing trouble for the sake of it. — Medium Rare Earth

Unprecedented cut to real earnings

If inflation peaks at 11 per cent, as the BoE claims, and the government remains fixed on only offering 1 or 2 per cent public sector pay rise, that will be the most colossal unprecedented slash in the real earnings of millions of ordinary hard working people. It is outrageous that ordinary people must pay such a high price for the mistakes of Andrew Bailey and Rishi Sunak.

Raise interests, high and fast. Crash house prices. Tax land/wealth/property, not income. It’s not hard to figure out, but they won’t do it. — Eren.B

Support for the RMT

Solidarity with the RMT. I sincerely hope other unions follow their lead and fight back for decent pay and conditions. Austerity and below inflation pay rises have gone on for far too long, while the rich have been accumulating immense wealth. — RoyBoy

No worker strikes lightly

No worker strikes lightly. Time to listen to what they are saying rather than oppose on ideological grounds. Many workers accepted a pay freeze and did their bit after the financial crash. That position is no longer sustainable with inflation as high as it is. — Willow

Do not fall into the trap of divide and rule

Do not fall into the trap of pessimism and divide and rule. Low wage rises suck and we should be doing everything in our power to combat them. The RMT is doing exactly that. Their demands aren’t exactly ridiculous either, it’s something like inflation + 2 per cent. Unless you’re some rich multi-millionaire, we all have more in common with the average RMT worker than you’d think. Support people demanding better wages — Londoner_123

Correlation between strikes and inflation

There is a strong correlation in history between the rate of inflation and the frequency and intensity of industrial action.

If we don’t want strike action (and I think there are some demands/behaviour in the strikes that are not helping the workers’ case), then the first point of call is don’t mismanage an economy to the point that inflation gets this high without pay increases keeping up. — BWKent

Class war

Real “modernisation” would be capital investment in track, trains, signalling and stations. That requires a long-term financial strategy not “propping up”.

Until then, as ever, we seem to expect the men and women who hold the system together (and their families) to make all the sacrifices.

It is “class war” and we need some more if we are to survive. — Scouse Acorn

Something has to give

We have inflation, something has to give: should we push for higher wages and lower profit margins or defend companies profit margins? — Maurice

Can’t have it both ways

On the one hand, you say that the government (or whoever) should deliver low inflation but, on the other hand, you exhort workers to seek inflation-busting pay rises that massively increase the probability of a wage/inflation spiral. You can’t have it both ways. — Person with brain

Squash the unions

Can’t just keep handing out money to everyone who throws a strop. Squash the unions 1970s style. The public want normal service after the last two years. The unions are political organisations just looking to bash the Tories and show that they can’t get Britain working, paving the way for leftwing Labour. Squash the unions and get the Rwanda flights going, then cut taxes. Vote winning policies! — SNC

Little sympathy for strikers

I’m sorry but I have little sympathy for the strikers. Yes, low pay rises suck, but that’s what most people are facing.

And demanding there are no redundancies? What fantasy land do these people live in? Currently unemployment is at an all-time low and there are record vacancies, if you’re so unhappy with your job, go elsewhere like most normal people do. Don’t grind the entire country to a halt and cause massive disruption to lives, the economy and society.

For better or worse, travel patterns have changed and that has led to less train travel. Where is the money to pay for everything the strikes are asking for meant to come from? — Badger

Huge wages rises are unsustainable

Huge wage rises are unsustainable. Any pay increase should be circa 1/3 pay rise, 2/3 bonus. When inflation subsides, pay will be more likely to be on a sustainable path. — Shotgun

We are all suffering

Trade unionists are just another group of people who think we have headed back to the 1970s. But, society has changed and there is much less sympathy for their plight, at a time when we are all suffering from high costs and pay which isn’t keeping up with inflation. Strike action is a selfish and short sighted way to help the UK get back on its feet. — Tazzyjoolz

WFH has sapped the power of this union

I am unclear why this industry should be immune from involuntary redundancy when it is a widespread practice elsewhere. This is a key aspect of the strike so no sympathy from me. I also think that redundancy is less of an issue with such a strong labour market.

This said WFH has sapped the power of this union. I feel for those that cannot WFH and suggest it is another reason for ensuring a diverse transport system is maintained. Let’s not cut bus routes in London. — LondonLad

No pay rise just for doing my job

I have only ever worked in the private sector and for the past six years I have never had a pay rise just for time served doing my job or cost of living reasons. I’ve only obtained pay rises by moving employer or by agreeing to take on more work — and the effective pay rate for the extra hours that additional work adds to my week has worked out to be not that much greater than the minimum wage — especially when you factor in the 40 per cent income tax rate. — RonaldoMcDonaldo

A young new breed of Tories

[My son’s journey to school] took 1 hour 30 minutes by bus when normally by train and bus it would take 35 minutes.

As a result, there is a new breed of Tories about to come through. They are the kids in the schools who are talking over lunch about how crazy it is to have the unions grind the country to a halt and inconvenience so many. Perfect situation to bolster youth support for the Tories at the next election. — Foxy Par 4

Working practices

Outdated working practices are not just on the railways . . . 

Parliament, too, with a touch of the pot calling the kettle black! — BrentryEd

Union jealousy?

Are we not just secretly jealous that the railway workers have a union and we don’t? — Mich_L

Comments have been edited for length and style

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