UK Rail Network Disrupted Again Amid Renewed Strike Action

By Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
July 27, 2022 Updated: July 27, 2022

British rail passengers are suffering fresh travel chaos after thousands of workers walked out on strike, crippling services across the country.

Some 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime, and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 14 train operators went on strike on July 27, and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) has also announced a strike by its members at Avanti West Coast.

This comes after last month’s nation-wide three-day strike organised by the RMT, which union leaders touted as the “biggest rail strike in modern history.”

More rail strikes have been planned for the rest of the summer. Members of the train drivers’ union Aslef at seven companies will strike on July 30, and the RMT and TSSA will launch co-ordinated strikes on Aug. 18 and 20. The RMT has also announced a strike on London Underground on Aug. 19.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said union members are more determined than ever in the dispute over pay, job security, and working conditions.

“Network Rail have not made any improvement on their previous pay offer and the train companies have not offered us anything new,” he said, adding: “RMT will continue to negotiate in good faith but we will not be bullied or cajoled by anyone.”

‘Cynically Timed’

Commenting on the strikes, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said, in his three years on the job, there has not been a single day when unions have not been in dispute by threatening or taking industrial action, with around 60 separate disputes in 2022 alone.

“Today, union bosses are once again trying to cause as much disruption as possible to the day-to-day lives of millions of hardworking people around the country,” he said.

Shapps accused the unions of deliberately targeting major sporting events.

He said the strikes have been “cynically timed to disrupt the start of the Commonwealth Games and crucial Euro 2022 semi-finals, in a deliberate bid to impact the travel of thousands trying to attend events the whole country is looking forward to.”

Writing in The Telegraph, Shapps dubbed the strikes an example of “union collusion,” adding he would seek to ban “strikes by different unions in the same workplace within a set period.”

He said he would also look at implementing a 60-day cooling-off period after each strike, as well as ensuring critical industries like rail maintain minimum service levels.

Labour Row

Both candidates in the contest for Conservative Party leadership have vowed to limit trade unions’ ability to stage industrial actions.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said if she becomes prime minister, she would introduce legislation within 30 days to require a minimum level of service on vital national infrastructure.

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak also called the strikes “irresponsible” and said they “will cause hardship for millions of ordinary workers across the country.”

He criticised the main opposition Labour Party for its pro-union stance, saying they “should stand up to their union paymasters instead of joining them on the picket line.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has ordered members of his shadow cabinet to stay away from the strikes, but shadow transport minister Sam Tarry joined the picket line at London’s Euston station.

This is not the first time his frontbench MPs have defied his order on strikes. Several shadow cabinet members also joined picket lines during June’s rail strikes.

On the day before the latest strike action, Starmer explained why he did not want to see members of Labour’s leadership joining striking workers.

He said: “The Labour Party in opposition needs to be the Labour Party in power. And a government doesn’t go on picket lines, a government tries to resolve disputes.”

Lily Zhou and PA Media contributed to this report.