Overhead view of Liverpool waterfront at night

Eurovision song and dance about rail strikes

Liverpool waterfront at night Ant Clausen / Marketing Liverpool / Eurovision 2023)

If you want the British public to stay on side, don’t interfere with their sporting pursuits. That was possibly a memo that didn’t get through to the rail union, RMT. Surely though, no one would be foolhardy enough to test the resolve of the people by desecrating the holiest of all alters. Evidently there’s something faulty with the admin trail at Unity House. Probably a questionable idea to call a strike on the day of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Liverpool, that otherwise most militant of socialist strongholds, guaranteed to be behind the workers, come what may. Unless come what may clashes with the glitz, glam and camp excess of Eurovision. Travel disruption for divas, media luvvies, and delirious fans alike is set to earn the unions “nul points” from the public jury. It’s also gained the ire of the Meetings Industry Association, the representative body behind the army of organisers behind trade, business and pubic events – including the massive effort behind staging Eurovision in Liverpool.

Cup Final off side

The Meetings Industry Association (mia) says it’s disappointed to learn that further industrial action is being planned as the train drivers’ union ASLEF and their sister union RMT have rejected the latest pay offers from the employers. With the four new dates announced for strikes (12, 13, 31 May, 3 June), the mia has warned of the devastating impact the previous strikes have had on the business meetings and events sector. The association is among the first representative bodies to break ranks and express disappointment directly with the unions.

Portrait of Kerrin MacPhie of the Meetings Industry Association
Portrait of Kerrin MacPhie of the Meetings Industry Association

The Football Association had already spoken up in disappointment over the strike on 3 June, the day of the FA Cup Final in London. The match is also the first ever cup final between the two leading Manchester clubs, United and City. The Manchester United Supporters Trust has called on both the unions and the employers’ representatives, the Rail Delivery Group, to each a settlement, or at least avoid the strike on the day of the big match.

Song contest off key

However, public dismay has been captured over the possible disruption to this Saturday’s Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool. Despite the contest having been invented specifically as a television event, it has grown into a physical spectacle with events all this week in the build up. Tens of thousands of fans are planning to attend. 25,000 turned out for Sunday’s launch event alone. It’s rather like a rock festival without the mud. The staging in Liverpool sold out almost immediately. The UK is hosting the event on behalf of last year’s winners, Ukraine.

Exterior of Liverpool Lime Street station showing the barrel roof and steps
Liverpool Lime Street frontage. Which reminds us: Steps have never competed at Eurovision, and that’s a tragedy.

Now, with the prospect of disrupted or impossible travel, fans are being forced to call off attending. That’s something that is also affecting other events all over the UK. “The continuing threats of further action will not only impact existing bookings on the announced dates”, explained Kerrin MacPhie, chief executive of the mia. “We know from our quarterly research that the estimated value of cancelled business as a result of the previous rail strikes exceeded 337 million pounds (391 million euro) for the business meetings and events sector, while over 550 million pounds (640 million euro) worth of business was postponed.”

MacPhie also said the situation was affecting the confidence of bookers and was adding to the challenges being faced by the sector, which is recovering from the pandemic, as well as spiralling energy costs, supply chain and recruitment issues. “We will be once again highlighting to government the impact on business meetings and events in the hope that a resolution can be gained”, concluded MacPhie.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

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