The railways will again grind to a halt on Wednesday as workers strike over pay, job security and working conditions.
The latest talks to avert the action failed last week, a month since three days of industrial action in June. The strikes involve more than 40,000 workers at Network Rail, 14 train companies, and members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT).
Transport for London services will be affected by the disruption as it uses sections of track that comes under Network Rail’s jurisdiction. There will also be a stoppage by members of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), who work for the Avanti West Coast firm.
“Network Rail have not made any improvement on their previous pay offer and the train companies have not offered us anything new,” said the RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch. “The government need to stop their interference in this dispute so the rail employers can come to a negotiated settlement with us.”
Today’s strike came after union leaders rejected a “paltry” offer of a 4% pay rise for the remainder of 2022 from Network Rail, and a possible 4% next year if workers accepted changes in working conditions.
The strike collides with school summer holidays, and Network Rail and the government say it could affect the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, which start on Thursday.
After the strike announcement, Network Rail accused the union of “walking away” from talks and said the action could have been avoided. “It’s now abundantly clear that their political campaign is taking precedence over representing their members’ interests,” said Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s lead negotiator.
The Conservative government is also pushing ahead with controversial plans to allow companies to replace striking employees with agency workers.
The latest railway strikes come as wider industrial action is considered across the public sector as workers demand pay rises amid the soaring cost of living.
Last week, thousands of Royal Mail workers voted to strike in August. Barristers in England and Wales staged a five-day strike earlier this month, and about 40,000 RMT members, including Network Rail signallers and train crew, will strike for two further days on 18 and 20 August.
The Conservative leadership hopeful Liz Truss has promised a further crackdown on trade unions, which has been criticised as the “biggest attack on civil rights” since the 19th century.
She has said she would introduce a law of minimum service levels on critical national infrastructure in the first 30 days of her premiership, which would restrict teachers, postal workers and the energy sector.
“Truss is proposing to make effective trade unionism illegal in Britain and to rob working people of a key democratic right,” said Lynch. “If these proposals become law, there will be the biggest resistance mounted by the entire trade union movement, rivalling the General Strike of 1926, the Suffragettes and Chartism.”