Britain’s railways will grind to a halt for three days this month when workers stage the biggest strike in a generation.
The RMT union said it would shut the network on June 21, June 23 and June 25 in a dispute over proposed job losses. There is a risk that each 24-hour walkout will spill into the following day, leading to a week of disruption.
More than 40,000 workers, including those employed by Network Rail and at 13 train operating companies, will walk out on the three dates. A further 10,000 London Underground workers will picket on June 21, virtually closing the network. It will be the largest strike on the railways since 1989.
Those striking include signallers and maintenance workers, prompting fears that rail freight could be hit, resulting in empty shelves and a petrol shortage.
Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, said: “Railway workers have been treated appallingly and despite our best efforts in negotiations, the rail industry with the support of the government has failed to take their concerns seriously.
“We have a cost of living crisis, and it is unacceptable for railway workers to either lose their jobs or face another year of a pay freeze when inflation is at 11.1 per cent and rising. Our union will now . . . shut down the railway system.”
The strikes have been planned for maximum disruption. Tens of thousands of revellers will head for Glastonbury on June 23; the England cricket team face New Zealand at Headingley in Leeds on June 23-27; the UK Athletics Championships take place in Manchester on June 24-26; and Armed Forces Day is on June 25, the same day the Rolling Stones play in Hyde Park, central London.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said the strikes were “incredibly disappointing” and could drive passengers away for good. He said: “The pandemic has changed travel habits with 25 per cent fewer ticket sales and the taxpayer stepping in to keep the railways running at a cost of £16 billion, equivalent to £600 per household. We must act now to put the industry on a sustainable footing. We are working with industry to reduce disruption caused by strike action but unions are jumping the gun by announcing this when talks have only just begun.”
RMT members voted overwhelmingly to strike in the ballot, which closed last month. The union accuses Network Rail of intending to cut at least 2,500 maintenance jobs as part of a £2 billion reduction in spending on the network, while saying staff at train companies have been subject to pay freezes, threats to jobs and attacks on their terms and conditions.
The strikes will hit 13 of England’s 15 train operating companies. Steve Montgomery, chairman of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the industry, said “no one wins in the event of a strike,” adding: “Staff lose pay, the industry loses vital revenue making it harder to afford pay increases, and passengers and businesses are disrupted.”