british railway strike

The biggest rail strike in a generation in the UK went under way after last-ditch talks failed to reach agreement. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has rejected demands for a pay rise of at least seven per cent

Entire cities and towns were cut off from the train network as strike action closes half of Britain’s rail lines.

Huge swathes of Britain were without any rail services on Tuesday, with further strikes also taking place on Thursday and Saturday, as 40,000 RMT members walked out in a dispute over pay and jobs. Network Rail confirmed on Wednesday that about 80 per cent of services would have to be scrapped.

Tens of thousands of rail and Tube workers walked out in what has been described as the “biggest outbreak of industrial action in the UK since 1989”.

The strike began on June 21. There will be strike again on June 23 and June 25.

Commuters are being told not to travel by train as the entire network is crippled by the largest strike in more than 30 years.

Media reports said:

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail (NR) and 13 train operators went to strike on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday in the UK.

The RMT and Unite also made strike on London Underground on Tuesday, in a row over jobs and pay.

Services across the UK started to affect from Monday evening, with just one in five trains running on strike days, mainly on main lines and only for about 11 hours.

Railway companies are proposing efficiency savings, which largely revolve around the use of new technology, such as drones to check on railway tracks rather than having workers walk along lines.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch praises ‘fantastic’ turnout as members ‘struggle for job security, defending conditions and a decent pay rise’

Bottom of Form

The power of a union was clear as RMT members shut down the rail network right across Britain in their battle to protect jobs, pay and safety.

A huge outpouring of solidarity was clear at many picket lines, with other trade unionists and members of the public showing support.

By contrast the mass media closed ranks against the strikers, echoing government lines about the impact of the disruption on other workers, supposedly high pay in the rail sector and the risk this action is supposed to pose to the future of the rail industry.

The walk-out began on Tuesday, with as many as 50,000 railway workers on strike and services across Network Rail and the London Underground affected.

The action was due to affect rail services “for the entire week where the three days of action have been called”. This is because trains may not be at the right stations after the walk-outs take place.

Chaos As ScotRail Forced To Cancel 90% Of Trains

Scotland’s railways descended into chaos on Tuesday after union members forced ScotRail to cancel 90 per cent of its trains in the first of three planned strike actions this week.

There was significant disruption across Scotland. ScotRail was able to run services on just five routes on these days.

Picket Line Receives Public Support

RMT union pickets were posted at all the main entrances to Birmingham New Street station.

The mood of members was upbeat.

There was some visible support from the public, with a handful of drivers beeping horns.

Zoom Outages

Zoom users have reported outages across the country as millions of Britons forced to work from home due to the rail strikes.

It comes as millions of people were forced to rely on the video conferencing app as the biggest rail strike in 30 years brought the UK transport network grinding to a halt.

Pay Freeze And Job Cut

Rail workers have voted to strike after a row with Network Rail over pay freezes and proposed job cuts. RMT claims that as many as 2,500 jobs are at risk and that workers have been subject to years of pay freezes.

Rail union the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) is demanding no compulsory redundancies for 2022, no changes to terms and conditions unless they are agreed with staff, and pay increases that keep up with inflation.

RMT General Secretary Mike Lynch said of the action: “We have a cost-of-living crisis, and it is unacceptable for railway workers to either lose their jobs or face another year of a pay freeze.”

Lynch praised the “fantastic” turnout and said members of his union had “exceeded expectations in our struggle for job security, defending conditions and a decent pay rise.”

It is a dispute “we will win,” he declared. “RMT members are leading the way for all workers in this country who are sick and tired of having their pay and conditions slashed by a mixture of big business profits and government policy.”

The RMT said the Tube strike was over a “separate dispute over pensions and job losses”.

Labour MPs

Labour frontbenchers joined picket lines to support striking rail workers, defying a ban from the party leadership.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told frontbenchers to stay away from picket lines while blaming the government for the walkouts but insisting he did not want the strikes to go ahead.

However, at least three junior frontbenchers, Kate Osborne and Paula Barker, both parliamentary private secretaries to shadow ministers, and Labour whip Navendu Mishra, defied his instructions.

Ms Osborne, an aide to shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle, joined striking workers in south-east London.

She said: “I am a trade unionist, I will always stand on the side of the workers.”

Mishra said from the London Victoria picket line: “I stand with all workers on our railway network who are taking industrial action to fight for their jobs and keep passengers safe.”

On the same picket line, Ms Barker tweeted: “Proud to support the workers on the picket line at London Victoria this morning, alongside colleagues.

“These workers keep our country moving safely 365 days a year. The least they deserve is to be paid properly and feel secure in their jobs.”

Even Sir Keir’s deputy Angela Rayner backed the RMT, tweeting: “Workers have been left with no choice.

“No-one takes strike action lightly. I will always defend their absolute right to do so for fairness at work.”

Scottish Labour Leader 

Labour’s leader in Scotland has expressed “solidarity” with striking rail workers as he visited a picket line following a warning from the UK party leader that frontbenchers should refrain from doing so.

Anas Sarwar and his transport spokesman Neil Bibby visited RMT members at Edinburgh Waverley on the first of three days of walkouts that will cause major disruption across the UK.

He tweeted: “Solidarity with those on the picket lines. This is a crisis entirely of the Government’s making. The workers don’t want strikes. The unions don’t want strikes. The public don’t want strikes. They demand better.”

Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite, said: “The Labour Party was founded by the trade unions and we expect Labour MPs to defend workers, by words and by actions.”

BFAWU general secretary Sarah Woolley said the Labour leadership was once again showing why her union disaffiliated from the party last year.

A number of Labour backbenchers also posted on social media from picket lines.

Former party chair Ian Lavery said “solidarity with the RMT today and all days” as he supported a picket line in Morpeth.

Beth Winter, the Cynon Valley Labour member, tweeted: “Complete solidarity with striking RMT members today.”

“Now is the time to stand up and fight for every single railway worker in this dispute that we will win.”

War With Unions

Rail chiefs have vowed to “dump outdated working practices” and cut 1,800 staff as a war with trade unions escalates over mass walkouts by train workers.

In a letter to trade unions, Network Rail said it would press ahead with plans to cut jobs and overhaul working hours in an effort to slash costs.

Strikes Cannot Be Allowed To Look Successful

Ken Clarke, the Tory former chancellor, has warned the rail strikes “cannot be allowed to look successful” because that will trigger a wave of copy-cat industrial action across other sectors.

He told the BBC: “This rail strike is, if it succeeds, going to give tremendous impetus to a return to the old wages, prices spiral that we suffered from in the 1970s and the 1980s.

“I am afraid it cannot be allowed to look successful when it settles because as we have already heard, the rest of the public sector who are comparatively underpaid compared with railwaymen. If the pay settlement is say 10, 11 per cent, then you are going to have vast amounts of the public sector induced to go in for the same militancy, the same strike action in order to demand at least the same. And so it is of crucial importance this.”

Starmer Silent 

Sir Keir Starmer is yet to comment today on the strike action which is wreaking havoc with the UK’s railways.

The Labour leader has previously said he did not want the strikes to go ahead. He also declined to criticize the unions, instead focusing his fire on the Government for failing to intervene.

The Tories will almost certainly pounce on his silence and seek to take political advantage of the situation as numerous Labour MPs have appeared on picket lines to support the action.

Rail Chiefs Vow To ‘Dump Outdated Working Practices’

Rail chiefs have vowed to “dump outdated working practices” and cut 1,800 staff as a war with trade unions escalates.

In a letter to trade unions, Network Rail said it would press ahead with plans to cut jobs and overhaul working hours in an effort to slash costs.

Elsewhere a message from one striking rail worker widely shared on social media made the point that her job entails more than “blowing my whistle on the platform”.

Tell Me

Jessica Leather, who was picketing Darlington station in the north east, said the last six weeks alone had seen her come to the aid of a victim of domestic violence, helping a passenger suffering a seizure in the First Class lounge until an ambulance arrived and stopping a teenager trying to throw herself under a train – “literally pinning her down until my knees are shredded and bloody”.

Ms Leather, who was joined on the picket line by at least one local Labour councillor, added in her message – which received praise alongside abuse: “Tell me I should have to suck up the pay freeze and have to choose between heating my house or feeding my kids this winter. Tell me my job should not exist. Tell me I am wrong to strike.”

It is About Fairness

Outside a rail depot on the Kingston to Waterloo loop in south west London a group of 10 strikers was explaining to anyone who cared to listen why they had walked off the job, to the inconvenience of thousands.

“It is about fairness,” said one local RMT rep with a decade of experience on the railways. “We are trying to look after people whose jobs are vulnerable and whose quality of life will change for the worse.

“Take one example: Sunday working. Under the proposals Sunday would be rostered, it would no longer be a voluntary day. That means you will have to work a number of Sundays compulsorily without overtime payments to make up for losing family time.”

“We are normal people,” said the rep. “There is a lot of anti-union rhetoric at the moment, but the precariousness people feel about their economic circumstances is fostering a more positive view of trade unions.

“There is a lot more support from the public these days because we are in the middle of a cost of living crisis and people have begun to realize this government is not delivering in any meaningful way.”

They Need To Feed Their Kids

“They need the money. We all do. They need to feed their kids,” said Ms Emma Carscadden , a software development worker in the City. “We are all struggling and wages are not keeping up with inflation, so I absolutely understand why they are doing this.”

Not that the strike action was not inconveniencing her. Far from it.

Cobra Emergency Meeting

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said there will be meetings of the Cobra emergency committee on the rail strikes this week.

He told BBC Breakfast: “Yes. There are Cobra meetings this week.”

Coordinated Action Needed

Trade union workers need to “co-ordinate industrial action across every town and city in Britain”, the head of the RMT union has said.

Mick Lynch told Sky News that the RMT are “very sorry for the disruption, we don’t want to do that. We want a resolution, but many in the public, like us, are suffering from rampant austerity.”

“The British worker needs a pay rise and job security,” he said.

Lynch also suggested more significant strike action from a variety of sectors could come this summer: “If the government does not change direction, I believe more strike action is inevitable. We as trade unions need to synchronize.”

“If we need to have industrial action, we need to co-ordinate industrial action in every town and city.”

I Do Not Meet With Unions

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said he does not meet with unions, as he described calls for him to join them round the negotiating table as a “stunt”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “I don’t typically meet with them because it is a red herring. If I thought there was a one in a million chance it would make a slightest bit of difference of course I would do so at the drop of the hat.

“The reality is they are using it as a camouflage for the fact they have walked out of the talks that they should be in with their employers.

“I do not meet with them because that is the job of the employers and the employers do meet with them and this is a stunt by the trade unions.

“What they need to do is come back into the negotiation today with Network Rail, with the train operating companies, and carry on negotiations and get this thing fixed, that’s what needs to happen and the rest of it, I am afraid, is a distraction, which you are falling for.”

Strikes, Last Resort

Gordon Martin, RMT regional organizer for Scotland, said the strike is the last resort for members and said they were looking for a “meaningful offer” to resolve the dispute.

He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “This is not the first option, this is the last resort for our members.”

Martin added: “It is a fight that we did not want, this is a defensive action by this trade union but it will be until we get a reasonable settlement and the members have made that abundantly clear to me and others.

“This is a defensive measure by our members in defense of their jobs, their terms and conditions and, I would argue, the safety of the rail industry.”

Economists Warn

Economists at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) have warned that the three strikes across Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday will have a fallout worth at least £91 million to the UK economy.

Industry leaders have warned that the costs could be even more.

TSSA

TSSA is balloting later this month for strike action that could start on Monday, July 25.

48-hour Walkout

Members of ASLEF on the Croydon Tramlink will stage a 48-hour walkout next week, and more strikes are likely if there is not a breakthrough.

Royal Mail

More than 115,000 Royal Mail workers are to be balloted for industrial action in a row over pay.

Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) will vote in the coming weeks on whether to mount a campaign of industrial action.

Rolls-Royce

Workers’ union Unite has rejected Rolls-Royce’s latest pay offer saying it fell short of expectations.

The engineering giant said earlier today it was offering a £2,000 lump sum to about 70pc of its UK workforce to help them steer through rising living costs.

“The revised offer still falls a long way short of the cost of living crisis claim submitted by our members and their expectations. Unite senior reps are in discussions to decide next steps,” Unite told Reuters.

Summer Of Discontent

TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes said: “We could be seeing a summer of discontent across our railways if Network Rail do not see sense and come to the table to face the concerns of their staff.

“Fat cat bosses have so far refused these completely reasonable requests, leaving us with no option other than to ballot for industrial action, something which is always a last resort.”

Only a fifth of mainline rail services are expected to be running over the three-day strike period in June. s

TSSA’s action with Network Rail would have a broader impact on services. It has members in engineering, maintenance, supervisory, control and management roles.

Summer Of Chaos

Richard Burge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, warned that the capital “cannot afford a summer of chaos on the railways and tube lines.”

Strike Reports

Most strike reportage depicts it as about pay alone, for two reasons.

One is that the public would be horrified to learn of the systematic sabotage of railways that government plans to withdraw billions in funding amount to — the Tories are running public transport into the ground, setting a course for irreversible decline.

The other is that turning workers against each other is the standard Conservative strategy to run their race to the bottom. Public sector versus private sector, “skilled” versus “unskilled,” whoever is on strike right now versus everyone else — hence the crocodile tears for students, teachers and nurses, all of whom are also being screwed over by government.

Presenting rail workers as self-indulgent while others are struggling is classic divide and rule. Tories — and right-wing Labour politicians — reject criticism of inequality and calls for wealth redistribution as “the politics of envy,” but the term better fits their own approach of trying to convince people to undermine their own pay, terms and conditions by refusing to stand with workers fighting for theirs.

The Tory tactic may not work, however. The cost-of-living crisis is hitting households hard.

Sky’s Kay Burley even made a bid to revive Thatcher-era depictions of pickets as thugs and bullies in a lame attempt to rattle RMT leader Mick Lynch.

There is widespread understanding that rejecting a 2 per cent offer when inflation is running at over 11 per cent is not greedy or unreasonable but about making sure workers can continue to put food on the table.


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