Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail and 15 train operators backed launching a campaign of industrial action. The union's leaders will now decide when to call strikes, which will bring huge parts of the network to a standstill
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Railway workers have voted overwhelmingly to strike in a bitter dispute over jobs, pay and conditions, threatening massive disruption to the network in the coming weeks.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail and 13 train operators backed launching a campaign of industrial action.

The union’s leaders will now decide when to call strikes, which will bring huge parts of the network to a standstill.

The union said it was the biggest endorsement for industrial action by railway workers since privatisation.

A total of 71 per cent of those balloted took part in the vote with 89 per cent voting in favour of strike action and 11 per cent voting against.

The union will now be demanding urgent talks with Network Rail and the 15 train operating companies.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘Today’s overwhelming endorsement by railway workers is a vindication of the union’s approach and sends a clear message that members want a decent pay rise, job security and no compulsory redundancies.

‘Our NEC will now meet to discuss a timetable for strike action from mid-June, but we sincerely hope ministers will encourage the employers to return to the negotiating table and hammer out a reasonable settlement with the RMT.’

A walkout by Network Rail signallers will have a significant impact on services.

It is possible that trains will only run for part of the day, such as from 7am to 7pm and only on main lines.

Services could be reduced to around a fifth of the normal weekday timetable.

A Department for Transport (DfT) spokesperson said: ‘Strikes should always be the last resort, not the first, so it is hugely disappointing and premature that the RMT is calling for industrial action before even entering discussions.

‘Taxpayers across the country contributed £16 billion to keep our railways running throughout the pandemic while ensuring not a single worker lost their job. The railway is still on life support, with passenger numbers 25 per cent down and anything that drives away even more of them risks killing services and jobs.

‘We urge the RMT to reconsider and accept the invitation of industry talks, so we can find a solution that delivers for workers, passengers and taxpayers alike.’

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail and 15 train operators backed launching a campaign of industrial action. The union's leaders will now decide when to call strikes, which will bring huge parts of the network to a standstill

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail and 15 train operators backed launching a campaign of industrial action. The union’s leaders will now decide when to call strikes, which will bring huge parts of the network to a standstill

HARD-LINERS: RMT leader Mick Lynch addresses the crowd as Recently sacked P&O workers and their supporters march from the local RMT building to the harbour entrance this month

HARD-LINERS: RMT leader Mick Lynch addresses the crowd as Recently sacked P&O workers and their supporters march from the local RMT building to the harbour entrance this month

It comes after RMT on Sunday issued a stern warning that they will mount fierce resistance to any attempt by the government to reduce their right to strike on the railways. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said over the weekend that ministers are looking at drawing up laws which would make industrial action illegal unless a certain number of staff are working.  

RMT general secretary Lynch declared: ‘Any attempt by Grant Shapps to make effective strike action illegal on the railways will be met with the fiercest resistance from RMT and the wider trade union movement.

‘The government need to focus all their efforts on finding a just settlement to this rail dispute, not attack the democratic rights of working people.

‘Britain already has the worst trade union rights in Western Europe.

‘And we have not fought tooth and nail for railway workers since our forebears set up the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants in 1872, in order to meekly accept a future where our members are prevented from legally withdrawing their labour.’  

Mr Shapps told the Sunday Telegraph that the government hopes the unions ‘will wake up and smell the coffee’ and suggested that strikes could put more people off rail travel.

He also accused unions of going straight to industrial action rather than using it as a last resort, adding that railways were already on ‘financial life support’ because of the pandemic.

Referring to a pledge in the Conservative manifesto for minimum services during strikes, he said: ‘We had a pledge in there about minimum service levels.

‘If they really got to that point then minimum service levels would be a way to work towards protecting those freight routes and those sorts of things.’

More than 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail and train operators were involved in the vote over whether to launch a campaign of industrial action over jobs, pay and conditions. 

'Any attempt by Grant Shapps (pictured) to make effective strike action illegal on the railways will be met with the fiercest resistance,' Mr Lynch said

‘Any attempt by Grant Shapps (pictured) to make effective strike action illegal on the railways will be met with the fiercest resistance,’ Mr Lynch said 

Universities, airports and hospitals could be hit by walkouts so severe they threaten to grind the country to a halt (pictured) People wait inside Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport

Universities, airports and hospitals could be hit by walkouts so severe they threaten to grind the country to a halt (pictured) People wait inside Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, which is also threatening industrial action, said: ‘What we are seeing here is desperate nonsense from the Tories who have chosen to attack working people in our union who kept the railways running every single day of the pandemic.

‘What the Government should be doing is putting in place measures to deal with the Tory cost of living crisis, including ensuring that wages keep pace with inflation.

‘It’s laughable to see Grant Shapps scampering off to drip poison in the ears of journalists instead of backing polices to put our railways front and centre of our economic recovery from Covid. He should be ashamed.

‘Frankly, the Tories can pass whatever law they wish to deny our members their fundamental rights – our union will defy their unjust and undemocratic laws every step of the way.

‘The difference between a slave and a worker is the latter’s ability to withdraw their labour.’

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘Ministers have spectacularly failed to deal with the cost of living crisis. Now they are trying to distract from their failure by picking a fight with unions.

‘The right to strike is crucial in a free society.

‘Threatening the right to strike tilts the balance in the workplace too far towards the employers. And it means workers can’t stand up for decent services and safety at work – or defend their jobs or pay.

‘We will fight these unfair and unworkable proposals to undermine unions and undermine the right to strike, and we will win.’

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: ‘Unite will confront head-on, and by whatever means necessary, any further attacks on the right to strike.

‘In Britain we already operate under the most restrictive labour laws in western Europe. A workers’ right to withdraw their labour is inalienable in any democracy worth its name.

‘This is a cynical, authoritarian move designed to protect corporate profits and has been wheeled out to satisfy the needs of short-term factional politics.

‘While corporations make billions and ordinary working people suffer, this Government chooses to attack the rights of British workers.

‘When P&O, a billion-dollar company owned by a foreign dictatorship, brutally sacked 800 British workers, they broke the law. The Government’s response was a fine.

‘When British workers threaten to defend their living standards in the face of a cost-of-living crisis not of their making, this Government threatens to take away their democratic rights.

‘We are now forced to put the Government on notice. Unite will not sacrifice the protection of our members’ jobs, pay and conditions on the altar of ‘partygate’. If you force our legitimate activities outside of the law, then don’t expect us to play by the rules.’

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: 'Unite will confront head-on, and by whatever means necessary, any further attacks on the right to strike (Unite union members pictured at the picket line on May 20)

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: ‘Unite will confront head-on, and by whatever means necessary, any further attacks on the right to strike (Unite union members pictured at the picket line on May 20)

Protesters, including trade unionists, striking cleaners and ex P&O workers, assemble in Clerkenwell in front of the Marx Memorial Library, to march to Trafalgar Square and celebrate International Workers Day on May 1st 2022 in London, United Kingdom

Protesters, including trade unionists, striking cleaners and ex P&O workers, assemble in Clerkenwell in front of the Marx Memorial Library, to march to Trafalgar Square and celebrate International Workers Day on May 1st 2022 in London, United Kingdom 

The picket line at the Barking depot on May 20, 2022 in London, England.UNITE Union members employed by Alstom are taking strike action over a dispute in conditions and pay

The picket line at the Barking depot on May 20, 2022 in London, England.UNITE Union members employed by Alstom are taking strike action over a dispute in conditions and pay

It comes as ministers urged union bosses to ‘be reasonable’ and spare the nation from rail strike chaos.

They insisted that if the unions went ahead, the Government would bring in legislation to prevent any repeat of a national rail shutdown. 

That would mean outlawing any strikes that did not provide a guaranteed ‘minimum service’ to limit disruption to passengers. It could also make union leaders liable for damages if they failed to honour such a requirement.

Last night, a Government source admitted that a law could not be rushed through in time for any strikes this summer, but it would apply for any future industrial action. The source also pointed out that the Government had put £16 billion of taxpayers’ cash into the rail industry during the pandemic as passenger numbers plummeted.

The insider added: ‘We’d rather have sensible discussions, and we want the unions to be reasonable.

‘But unjustified, wide-scale rail strikes would make legislation inevitable to protect the public and supply chains.’

DAVID BLUNKETT: Can’t the union barons see a rail strike paralysing Britain would be suicidal madness? Walkout by London Underground staff would create travel misery for millions after Platinum Jubilee and severely inconvenience commuters

 With the country already in the grip of rampant inflation, crippling energy costs and global instability, the last thing Britain needs is an outbreak of strike action.

But sadly, that’s what we are heading for in the weeks ahead.

A walk-out of 4,000 station staff on the London Underground planned for Monday, June 6, would not only create travel misery for the millions returning to work after the Platinum Jubilee weekend, but also severely inconvenience commuters travelling from outside the capital, and tourists now flocking to the UK in the post-Covid world.

On top of the Tube strike, the outcome of a ballot last night may lead to industrial action on the main rail network, a stoppage that would involve more than 40,000 people working for Network Rail and 15 train operating companies, causing ‘potentially the biggest rail strike in modern history’.

On June 6, 4,000 London Underground staff plan to strike, which could coincide with industrial action with staff from Network Rail and 15 train operating companies (pictured: Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the RMT)

On June 6, 4,000 London Underground staff plan to strike, which could coincide with industrial action with staff from Network Rail and 15 train operating companies (pictured: Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the RMT)

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union held a strike in March over a deadlocked dispute over jobs, pensions and conditions (Jubilee line trains parked at the London Underground Stratford Market Depot)

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union held a strike in March over a deadlocked dispute over jobs, pensions and conditions (Jubilee line trains parked at the London Underground Stratford Market Depot)

Venom

What these two proposed walk-outs have in common is the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) Union, a trade union that, long ago, disaffiliated from the Labour Party and whose militant executive committee members spit out almost as much venom about the party as they do about the Conservative Government.

Historically, the railways have always been a hotbed of trade union action and co-ordinated strikes, but the national rail service that the RMT is determined to bring to its knees has never been more vulnerable.

The pandemic has left it on taxpayer-funded life support, as passenger numbers on both Network Rail and the Underground have dropped dramatically.

The Government stepped in with a funding package nudging £16 bn — the equivalent of £600 for every household in the country — ensuring that no railway workers were furloughed.

But this level of support is wholly unsustainable in the long term. And while passenger numbers are recovering, they will never return to the levels we saw pre-pandemic.

According to a report from the Office for National Statistics, published on Monday, no less than 84 per cent of employees say they will continue to work from home some of the time, and only 8 per cent will return to commuting five days a week.

Members of the RMT Trade union protested at Tottenham Court Road on May 24

Members of the RMT Trade union protested at Tottenham Court Road on May 24

London Underground alone — which is partially funded by central government and the Mayor of London, but is also heavily reliant on the paying passenger — is short of £400 million.

Fewer passengers equals less revenue, which in turn means the company can’t afford as many workers.

Even the RMT leadership should grasp this — and understand the implications of punishing those still willing and needing to use the service. It is suicidal madness.

The harder it is to get to work by public transport, the greater the likelihood of people turning away and finding other ways of getting to work — thereby putting even more jobs at risk on the network and further jeopardising its finances.

Quite simply, there is no more money forthcoming from government. Sitting down and working out how savings can be made, without hitting either the service or those employed to provide it, is the only way forward — it must be the order of the day.

Transport for London, which owns London Underground, has promised no compulsory redundancies; they will simply not fill vacancies created by workers leaving the industry or retiring.

But the RMT is demanding a 10 per cent pay rise and better pensions, too.

Given the parlous state of our railways system and the improvements that have already been made to pay and conditions over the past decade, such demands are patently unachievable.

Over the past ten years, the median earnings of train drivers have increased by 39 per cent, well above the national average of 23 per cent, or the 15 per cent for nurses.

The highest-paid train drivers now earn an average of £59,000, compared with £31,000 for nurses and £41,000 for police officers.

When it comes to pensions — another one of the sticking points in negotiations — existing arrangements are already comparatively attractive.

At present, TfL staff pay in 5 per cent of their salary —while TfL contributes a staggering 26.9 per cent towards pension pots.

Most train drivers work a four-day week and, if they have a medical appointment, however short, they are released for the entire shift.

Meanwhile, technology is changing the workplace. Ticket offices, for example, are a significant drain on TfL resources. Yet just 12 per cent of tickets are now bought in ticket offices — and the lowest-performing office in the country saw only 17 transactions in February and March, taking only £642. How can that continue?

Thousands of commuters are forced to queue for buses around London when London Underground services are disrupted strikes

Misery

Not everything is perfect for those working for TfL, of course, but conditions compare favourably with those of other workers and the inescapable fact is that industrial action, with all the misery that this brings, cannot be justified.

Which brings us to the wider strike, if it is called. Not only will the passenger trains be brought to a standstill, but so will those carrying goods.

Egged on by the coterie of far-Left activists that surround him, the leader of the RMT, Mick Lynch, threatens ‘to bring the country to a standstill’ — something that could add shortages of food and essentials to the nation’s already dire economic situation.

Instead of issuing terrifying warnings and threats, the RMT and its sister union, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), could actually make a positive contribution to the state of our railways if they only picked on the right targets.

When it comes to its ludicrously complex maintenance and safety contracts, and an accounting and management system that seems to be completely out of control, Network Rail urgently needs reform.

Maintenance and safety are a concern for all of us, and the union could justifiably argue that job losses in this area could jeopardise the travelling public. After all, the tragedies of the Hatfield train crash in 2000 (when four people died and 70 were injured) and of the 2007 derailment on the West Coast main line in Grayrigg, Cumbria, (when one died and 80 were injured) are too recent in our memories.

London underground trains were stationary at Neasden Railway depot on March 1 this year due to strikes

London underground trains were stationary at Neasden Railway depot on March 1 this year due to strikes

Disruption

The management structure, meanwhile, could certainly be made more efficient, leading to substantial savings.

The point is that the RMT and the TSSA could be making progress in negotiations.

Instead, they appear to have learned nothing from the past — when the public, sick and tired of disruption, dislocation and inconvenience, turned against them — and we have a stand-off with a Government which is only too eager to find others, such as the unions, to blame for the nation’s ills.

Everyone knows that savings are going to have to be made and that the Government is not going to offer any more bail-outs, either to Transport for London or Network Rail.

And yet, flying in the face of reality at a time of desperate economic need for the entire country, the unions are thoughtlessly pressing on with their demands — even though the workers themselves can’t afford to lose the income that strike action entails.

As I said, this posturing and threatening is self-destructive. And just at a time when we have never needed collaboration and co-operation more urgently.

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