All around the country tens of thousands of people are fed up today.
The daily commute – already a pain – has been disrupted by the striking train drivers. On the airwaves we hear of the drama playing out between the various sides getting on their high horses and blaming each other. However, if you take a bit of altitude, we can see that this strike goes to the very heart of societal problems building within our country.
The first problem is that not enough people are taking the trains. If we take the Dart out of the picture, our trains are regularly empty and the company is running large losses. Without more state subsidy or higher fare or more passengers, it is hard to see how this can be resolved. As a result, the company says it has no money.
The flip side is the drivers’ dilemma. They are living in an expensive country and if their wages don’t rise and their taxes don’t fall, they are caught in a brace of higher costs and lower take home wages. They, like many other workers, are on a treadmill, where they have no money left at the end of the month.
Their major costs, such as rent, are going up, so what are they to do?
Additionally, the government has for years -perhaps due to the car lobby – favoured the car over public transport, or at the very least not invested enough in public transport to make it a viable alternative to jumping behind the wheel.
A final point is the fact that during the recovery, the balance of revenue has gone more to profits and less to wages. When the economy crashed wages fell as more people were on the dole. This lead to profits rising in companies because there are only two places money can go in a company. It can either go to the owners of the company in profits or it can go to the workers in wages. As wages fell relative to profits, workers felt the pinch.
Now that the economy is motoring, the pendulum swings back towards wages and away from profits. This process happens economy-wide and companies that can afford to pay higher wages do; but companies that can’t afford, don’t.
The rail workers are in a company that can’t afford to pay higher wages without putting its hand in the pockets of others. That’s the conundrum.
Expect lots of shouting and roaring on this over the next few months, but ultimately there is no easy way out. By the way, if our new government settles early with other people’s money, this will be only the first in a series of public sector strikes.