Southern faces Twitter backlash after urging commuters to 'strike back' at RMT
A train operator's attempt to gain Twitter users' support during a trade union dispute appeared to have backfired when it sparked an angry backlash from commuters.
Southern Railway asked followers to send messages to the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) to "tell them how rail strikes make you feel" as part of a long-running row over the role of conductors.
But the tweet, with an image headlined "Let's Strike Back", prompted a backlash from users early on Monday morning. The network faces four days of strike action in five blocks from next month.
Other replies to the hashtag the firm suggested, #southernbackontrack, criticised the firm over its handling of the dispute and its service in general.
User Matt Woosie wrote: "I'd rather be delayed by a strike than your company's inability to hire enough staff."
Martin Cox said: "You brought this on yourselves. We, your customers are suffering. Let's be radical. Employ more staff."
Simon Cox posted: "You are kidding? I dislike unions but I dislike incompetent management more. You provide the service - get on with it."
Nik Fletcher said: "My connecting train home has been cancelled every day under revised timetable. And now you expect me to advocate for you?"
And Ellie Awford wrote: "I assumed there was a @RMTunion strike this morning - but no, just the standard poorly run service #SouthernBackOnTrack #southernfail."
Southern's tweet from its official @SouthernRailUK account said: Time to get back on track. Tweet @RMTunion & tell them how rail strikes make you feel".
It included a poster picture, which read: "Let's Strike Back. The RMT won't listen to us. But they may listen to you.
"Tweet @RMTUnion to tell them how you feel, and help us get #southernbackontrack".
The RMT announced last month an escalation of industrial action which will bring fresh travel chaos for hundreds of thousands of passengers.
The strikes will start on October 11 and will be held intermittently until December 8.
The union has staged a series of walkouts in recent months in protest over changes to the role of conductors at Southern, which is owned by Govia Thameslink Railway.
There was support for the company on Twitter, as well as criticism.
Alex Hayman wrote "@RMTunion #southernbackontrack make a compelling case. Time to start thinking about the customers and misery your action brings."
Mafhyou said: "@RMTunion I commute, times change, Govia guarantee terms. If conductors don't accept I say sack them all! #Southernbackontrack."
Calum McTidyup posted: "@RMTunion Drivers on @chilternrailway have closed doors for years. What's the fuss? #southernbackontrack."
Mick Cash, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: " This is a pathetic attempt by the basket case Southern franchise to once again try and blame their frontline staff for their own managerial incompetence.
"Southern have wrecked services across the South East and the passengers know that and that is why the commuters themselves are mounting a legal challenge against the company.
"RMT thanks the public for their continued support and understanding as we continue to fight for services and safety against this money-grabbing outfit."
A Southern spokesman said: "Our aim was to get the debate going and to let people know exactly what our very fair and comprehensive offer is and how we are trying to modernise the train service for our passengers which the RMT leadership is trying to block.
"Our service has not been good enough and the main reason for that has been the RMT union leadership's refusal to talk and do a deal. Thousands of passengers are demanding to know what we are doing to bring this dispute to an end. We felt there was a need to let them know.
"Today we have reaffirmed that offer in a final attempt to bring this to an end and we are offering an additional incentive of £2,000 once the new role is introduced. Faced with a further 14 days of strikes, we believe enough is enough - the union leadership has had this offer for two months and should put it to their members."