On 9th April 2005, one hundred and seventy Merseyrail guards from the RMT union held the second day of their two-day strike, coinciding with the Grand National horse race at Aintree. In solidarity, train drivers refused to cross the picket lines, and no Merseyside trains ran on either the Friday or the Saturday.
The Aintree week action was estimated to have cost Merseyrail’s operators hundreds of thousands of pounds, since the festival traditionally brings more passengers onto the network than any other event in the calendar.
Charles Barnett, Managing Director of Aintree Racecourse, described the situation as “jolly inconvenient“, while his counterpart at Merseyrail expressed his disappointment that the guards had refused an offer when he was seeking “the long-term benefit of our staff”, and that the strikers were causing “severe damage to the much improved image of Merseyrail and Merseyside generally”.
The reality of the situation was very different. The guards had been offered a 35 hour working week (down from 36), in line with their demands. However, they had been expected to pay for this with more restrictive rostering, an attack on sick pay, and a loss of compensation for rest days. The local media did not publicise these conditions, preferring to portray management as innocent victims.
The dispute lasted into August, when RMT members voted to accept a slightly improved offer by the narrow margin of 70 to 61. The union’s executive had suspended strikes in June, when Merseyrail agreed to talks.