The UK’s biggest rail strike in a generation will “punish millions”, a government minister has warned, as union leaders said industrial action could be extended to other parts of the economy this summer.
A six-day walkout will begin on Tuesday, involving 40,000 Network Rail staff and workers for 13 train operators, which is expected to cause major transport disruption. The strike is being co-ordinated by the RMT trade union over pay disputes.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT union, told Sky News on Sunday that politicians were blocking a pay deal that could avoid the strikes. “It’s Shapps, [Boris] Johnson and Rishi Sunak who are stopping a deal being done in this dispute.”
Lynch said other unions were likely to go on strike this summer. “I think there are going to be many unions balloting across the country, because people can’t take it any more.”
He added: “We don’t want to be the cause of disruption in people’s lives. We want a settlement to this dispute, but we are facing a crisis for our members.”
Grant Shapps, transport secretary, on Saturday accused the union of “gunning” for strikes that would be “punishing millions of innocent people, instead of calmly discussing the sensible and necessary reforms we need to make in order to protect our rail network”.
He said the union was “jumping the gun”, adding that the RMT “seems determined to go out on strike” instead of focusing on negotiations. “Sadly they have ignored these requests time and again, and we are now on the cusp of major disruption which will cause misery for people right across the country,” Shapps said.
The RMT has said that the pay rises being discussed — as little as 2 per cent — were inadequate given that inflation is forecast to reach 11 per cent this year. The union’s members voted for a six-month strike mandate in May.
Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow levelling up secretary, said the government had failed to properly engage with the unions. “None of us want strikes to have to go ahead,” she told the BBC on Sunday.
“The government has got to get around the table . . . the biggest problem this country faces right now is not militant workers, it’s a militant government,” she added.
Kwasi Kwarteng, business secretary, accused the unions of “bribing” workers to go on strike, citing an increase in the daily strike payments made by the Unison trade union from £25 a day to £50 a day, payable from day one of striking instead of day four.
“It’s obvious that trade union chiefs have been quietly amassing a war chest to effectively bribe workers into unleashing a summer of strike chaos,” he told the Sunday Telegraph.
Kwarteng added: “It’s clear they’ve been plotting this for some time. Looking at the figures, this plan of theirs is designed to inflict maximum damage on millions of people for as long as possible.”
The strikes will take place on June 21, 23 and 25 with Network Rail warning that the disruption is expected to last throughout the days between the action.
Disruption is expected on all of the UK’s major train lines, including the London Underground, LNER, Avanti West Coast and many commuter railways.