Train Strike in the UK: The impulses of the economic crisis are appearing

The most significant rail strikes in 30 years will go ahead this week after last-ditch talks failed, the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said.

RMT leader Mick Lynch says the union has “no choice” but to take industrial action, blaming government cuts for “hobbling the industry”. Train services across England, Scotland and Wales, are running on a severely reduced timetable from this evening ahead of the Train Strike Tomorrow. London Underground workers will also strike on Tuesday.

RMT general-secretary Mick Lynch said workers had “no choice” and needed to “fight for workplace justice”. Lynch blamed the action on government cuts, saying “£4bn of funding” had been “slashed” from the UK’s railway network. He also accused the rail companies of failing to develop adequate proposals during talks, including giving “any guarantee against compulsory redundancies.”

The first of three 24-hour strikes over pay and job cuts start at midnight, and there are further walkouts due to a walkout of thousands of members of rail staff. There is also further strike action planned for Thursday and Saturday this week. One in five trains will run on strike days on 21 June, 23 June and 25 June, reducing services across the UK network by around 80 percent. It will halt services altogether in northern and southern England, Wales and Scotland.

Strike action is expected to cause six days of disruption, as trains are thought to start later and run reduced services even on non-strike days.

There is also chaos in the London Underground, with most of the Tube network set to grind to a halt on Tuesday. Services across the UK will be affected from Monday (20 June) evening, with just one in five trains running on strike days, primarily on main lines and only for around 11 hours. Ticket office closures are also being planned, according to the RMT.

The strike involves thousands of members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union at Network Rail and 13 train operators.

General Secretary of the RMT Mick Lynch explained about the train strike tomorrow:

“The RMT National Executive Committee has found both sets of proposals unacceptable, and it is now confirmed that the strike action scheduled this week will go ahead. It is clear that after slashing £4bn of funding from National Rail and Transport for London, the Tory Government has actively prevented a settlement to this dispute”.

“The rail companies have now proposed pay rates that are massively under the applicable inflation rates, coming on top of the pay freezes of the past few years. “At the behest of the Government, companies are also seeking to implement thousands of job cuts and have failed to give any guarantee against compulsory redundancies”, Mick Lynch said.

The RMT claims rail companies were “attacking” the Railway Pension Scheme and the Transport for London scheme by diluting benefits and making staff work longer.

It also alleges companies are making staff poorer in retirement while paying increased contributions. The union said thousands of jobs were being cut across the rail network with no guarantee of no compulsory redundancies.

A Rail Delivery Group spokesperson said: “No one wins in the event of a strike.”

The train strike tomorrow will affect the millions of people who use the train each day, including key workers, students with exams, those who cannot work from home, holidaymakers and people attending important business and leisure events.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says the Government is doing its “utmost” to stop the train strike tomorrow, but negotiations are a matter for the union and rail companies.

Grant Shapps says a skeleton timetable on strike days will see about 20% of services running. That’s on half of the network only, But Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh says the strikes would “represent a catastrophic failure of leadership”.

The Department for Transport said it was “hugely disappointing” that the Train Strikes Tomorrow is going ahead. A spokesperson said: “The Government committed £16bn to keep our railways running throughout the pandemic while ensuring that no worker lost their job. The railway is still on life support, with passenger numbers 25% down, and anything that drives away even more of them risks killing services and jobs.

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “Yet again, the RMT union is dismissing talks before we’ve even finished, with more planned for tomorrow. “We’re serious about finding a solution and working out a compromise that gives our people a decent pay rise, but it has to be affordable for taxpayers and farepayers.”

The Department for Transport has just sent journalists a list of responses to some things RMT leader Mick Lynch said in the press conference we covered this afternoon.

Here are just a few of them:

  • RMT says: “The government has cut £2bn from the National Railway”. The Government says this isn’t a cat, and the £2bn is a gap in revenue from a drop in passenger numbers.
  • RMT says: “At the behest of the government, the companies are also seeking to implement thousands of job cuts across the network and have failed to give any guarantee against compulsory redundancies”, The Government says it has not specified the number of required cuts, this is for employers to determine. It is anticipated that the vast majority, if not all, could go through voluntary redundancy.
  • RMT says: “The government have told us… they intend to close every single ticket office in Britain”, The Government says it’s “absurd to suggest we want to see every booking office closed”. No final decision has been taken, but ticket offices have significantly declined passenger use.
  • RMT says: “The rail companies… are cutting safety inspections by maintenance staff on the infrastructure by up to 50% to facilitate mass redundancies.” The Government says machines can check for cracks more effectively and safely than workers.

At least 40,000 Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union members are walking out after talks broke down between Network Rail, train operators and London Underground.

The RMT said members are striking over job cuts and below-inflation pay rises, with the Government slashing funding for National Rail and Transport for London. In Parliament on 15 June, Transport Secretary Shapps responded to a suggestion from Jeremy Corbyn that pay was inadequate and said that the median salary for a train driver is £59,000, compared to £31,000 for a nurse. That means that if all train drivers were lined up in order of their pay, the person in the middle would represent the median salary.

For 2021, the median for train and tram drivers was £59,189, and for nurses, it was £31,093, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The difficulty with using this figure for train drivers regarding the train strike tomorrow is that drivers are represented by their union Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) – of which 96% of drivers in England, Scotland and Wales are members. The strikes over pay cover more roles than just the drivers. In the same 15 June debate, Mr Shapps said: “The median salary for the rail sector is £44,000, which is significantly above the median salary in the country.”

The Department of Transport said they arrived at the figure by adding median figures from ONS for categories of workers and then dividing by four. The four types include rail travel assistants, rail construction and maintenance operatives, rail transport operatives and train and tram drivers. ONS figures show that rail travel assistants, who include ticket collectors, guards and information staff, have a median salary of £33,310.

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