Rail workers have walked out on strike today (27 July) in the latest stage of a long-running dispute over pay, job security and working conditions.
Rail bosses have criticised the strike as “political campaigning,” while RMT general secretary Mick Lynch has insisted that strike action is “the only course open” to try and win a better offer for workers.
Why are rail workers going on strike?
The latest offer put forward by Network Rail amounted to a 4% increase in the first year, followed by a further possible 4% the following year, although this would be contingent on the RMT accepting all of Network Rail’s proposed changes to workers’ terms and conditions.
The RMT says it has yet to receive an offer on pay or guarantees on job losses from the train operating companies involved in the dispute.
The strike will mean that only around a fifth of rail services across the country run, with approximately half of the rail network shut down entirely.
Very few services will be running before 7:30am and after 6:30pm, and passengers have been urged to avoid travelling by train if possible.
Shadow transport minister Sam Tarry joined striking workers on the picket line at Euston Station in London, in defiance of Sir Keir Starmer’s orders to stay away.
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “If we don’t make a stand today, people’s lives could be lost.
“Some of the lowest-paid workers are on strike today in the rail industry, safety critical workers, workers who make sure our railways get people to work and do so safely.
“It can’t be accepted anymore, that people just have to accept that inflation is out of control. The Government’s doing nothing on the cost-of-living crisis.”
Mr Tarry was formerly a political officer for the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), another union which represents transport workers.
Grant Shapps accused on being ‘on strike’
As well as strike action across 14 train operating companies and Network Rail by RMT members, workers in the TSSA are also going on strike across the Avanti West Coast network.
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA, told the PA news agency: “Our members in Avanti West Coast are out on strike because the deep cost-of-living crisis that the Tories have created is meaning that they’re losing purchasing power.
“Of course many of them have not had a pay increase not just this year, not just last year, but up to four years.
“So, clearly, like the rest of the country, they are feeling the pinch and it’s just getting to the point where it’s unbearable.”
He added that workers have had to take matters “into their own hands”, but that TSSA members – who are also striking on August 18 and 20 – did not take the decision likely.
“Our members are not known for their militancy… for many of them this is the first time they’ve taken part in a ballot for industrial action, never mind any kind of industrial action.
“But, like the rest of the country, they’re feeling the pinch of the deep cost-of-living crisis the Tories have created.”
Mr Cortes also said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps “appears to have gone on strike himself,” as he has failed to involve himself in negotiations, despite train operating companies needing his approval for any deal they wish to propose.
Mr Shapps has defended reported plans to limit strike action through legislation, which unions have vowed to fight if implemented.
He said: “It is perfectly reasonable to withdraw your labour. You shouldn’t be able to ballot on one subject, as has happened here, and then widen the strike out to everything else, and then keep it going in a forever strike kind of fashion.”
What has Mick Lynch said about negotiations?
The RMT are calling for members of the public to show their support for striking workers by attending a picket line in their area, a full list of which is available on the RMT’s website.
Members of other trade unions, such as the CWU, Unison, PCS, NEU and more have attended picket lines in support of the RMT’s cause.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch described Network Rail’s latest offer as a “paltry sum” which amounts to a real terms pay cut for workers.
He said: "We have made progress on compulsory redundancies. But Network Rail are still seeking to make our members poorer when we have won in some cases double what they are offering, with other rail operators.
"The train operating companies remain stubborn and are refusing to make any new offer which deals with job security and pay.
"Strike action is the only course open to us to make both the rail industry and government understand that this dispute will continue for as long as it takes, until we get a negotiated settlement.
"The public who will be inconvenienced by our strike action need to understand that it is the government’s shackling of Network Rail and the TOCs that means the rail network will be shut down for 24 hours.
He added: "We remain open for further talks."
Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, accused the RMT leadership of being “hell-bent… on political campaigning” rather than finding a compromise.
He said: “I can only apologise for the impact this pointless strike will have on passengers.
“It is frustrating to yet again ask our passengers to change their plans and only make essential journeys.”
Steve Montgomery, Chair of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the train operating companies, said he was “incredibly disappointed” by the decision by workers to strike.