Going Nowhere Fast

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The rail unions have built up some powerful muscle they can flex.

When Stephen Byers was spotted in a Westminster canteen just before Xmas, deep in talks with Mick Rix of Aslef, eyebrows were raised all round. We were all under the impression that trade unions had been virtually airbrushed out of the frame. Now here was one apparently on the best of terms with the transport secretary. One interpretation might be that, with the railways in particular, the government has dug itself into such a hole that it needs every bit of help it can get to winch itself out again.

Labour and the Unions: Byers and Sellers

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Judith Orr explains why the state of Britain's railways is producing a political crisis for New Labour, while Gareth Jenkins blames years of underinvestment.

It was only 2,000 workers. Hardly enough to shake a majority government off course. Yet within days of the first South West Trains strikes the air of crisis around the government threatened Stephen Byers' position. ScotRail drivers refused to work rest days and stopped one in four trains running. Arriva train drivers returned a 17 to one vote for strike action, and even commuters are planning a passenger strike on 1 March . The media was suddenly full of talk about a return of the 1970s.


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