Militant RMT union boss refuses to rule out coordinated national strike action to cripple the country in pay row – despite more than 5,000 staff getting set to quit by taking voluntary redundancy
- Mick Lynch laid open prospect of coordinated walkouts to ratchet up pressure
- ‘I’m not saying it won’t take place but we need some coordination,’ he told LBC
- RMT threatening three-day rail strike which will ruin Glastonbury and getaways
A union baron today raised the prospect of Britain facing its first general strike in 100 years – despite more than 5,000 rail staff being prepared to quit by taking voluntary redundancy.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT – which is threatening a three-day railway strike later this month – left open the prospect of coordinated walkouts in order to cause maximum pressure on the government.
Although it is illegal for workers to go on strike in solidarity with others, militants could get around it by different unions walking out over sector-specific issues at the same time, employment lawyers say.
Today, LBC’s Nick Ferrari asked Mr Lynch about comments by Gary Smith, general secretary of the GMB union, in which he said he would have ‘no problems with coordinating strike action with other unions’, including the RMT, ‘in order to leverage our power’.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT – which is threatening a three-day railway strike later this month – left open the prospect of coordinated walkouts
Mr Lynch replied: ‘It would make sense for workers to leverage their power in any campaign because the UK worker needs a pay rise.
‘Profits are up, dividends are up, we’ve had more billionaires than we’ve ever had and the rich have never been richer.
‘While that’s been happening, workers wages have been falling so that’s something that’s got to be addressed and it’s the trade union’s job to address it.’
Asked by Mr Ferrari if this meant a ‘de facto national strike’, Mr Lynch said: ‘We’re not going that far, coordination is different to a national strike. We’ll see how that develops through the summer.
‘I’m not saying it won’t take place but we need some coordination. We’ve ahead of the ban because we’ve got direct issues but if you look what’s happened in the aviation industry where they cut thousands of jobs and now they can’t operate the aeroplanes… the airlines have taken a very shortsighted view’.
In another interview with GB News, Mr Lynch refused to refused to admit that other workers would lose their wages if they could not get to work during strikes.
It comes as a voluntary redundancy scheme for rail workers was inundated with more than 5,000 application – raising questions about union bosses’ justification for launching the most significant strike action for decades.
Train operators received 2,949 applications to quit as part of a scheme set up last autumn to reduce costs after Covid, the Telegraph revealed. Another 2,159 applied for the scheme at Network Rail, which state-backed manager of railway infrastructure.
Unions insisted the programme had only been offered to managers at Network Rail rather than all staff. Even so, the demand for voluntary redundancies calls into question their claims that rail leaders are imposing unwanted job cuts.
Yesterday, GMB boss Gary Smith said that ‘a thousand fires’ were breaking out across the country as unions pushed for higher pay to reflect the soaring cost of living.
He denied unions were already planning a national strike but warned it could follow unless ministers and employers back down.
‘You are seeing disputes across the country caused by the cost of living,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend. ‘I don’t think there is a single strategy at the moment – it is just working people saying enough is enough – but in time that may happen, particularly in the public sector.’
Bruce Carr, an employment barrister who previously advised the Government on union policy, warned that 1980s legislation banning sympathy strikes could not prevent barons co-ordinating to produce a form of national strike.
‘If you have a series of separate trade disputes that are properly balloted with different employers there is nothing to stop Unite and the RMT getting on the phone to co-ordinate… so you could have a de facto national strike with different unions calling out different industries at the same time.’
Commuters at Vauxhall railway station earlier this month. Rail workers are due to walk out on June 21, 23 and 25
Christina McAnea, general-secretary of Unison, said she would be recommending strike action to her 1.3 million members if government pay settlements come in below inflation. Britain has not faced a national strike since 1926.
Meanwhile, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is drawing up plans to ban workers from overtime if they go on strike.
Alongside industry chiefs, Mr Shapps is devising ways to prevent striking workers from claiming the perk, which they are usually entitled to when getting rail services back on track after a walkout.
The minister is said to be determined that workers won’t be able to ‘milk the system’ after ‘inflicting misery’ through industrial action, The Telegraph reports.
A Department for Transport source said: ‘The traditional mistake during strike is that you pay staff to work overtime putting right the damage they’ve done. We won’t be making that mistake this time. Striking will result in a full and absolute loss of pay.’
Union barons yesterday threatened to take the Government to court over plans to allow agency workers to be brought in to limit the impact of rail strikes.
The RMT said it would ‘shut down’ the country’s railway network after talks over pay and redundancies fell through. Pic: Commuters at Vauxhall
The militant RMT union said it would launch the ‘fiercest resistance possible’ to the plans, announced by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
When asked if this could include legal action or more strikes, an RMT spokesman said neither could be ruled out.
It plunged talks deeper into crisis days before more than 40,000 RMT workers strike on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday of next week.
It threatens to cause chaos for millions, affect key events such as Glastonbury and Armed Forces Day and even prevent students from attending school or sitting exams.
Government sources told the Express that ‘nothing is off the table’ when it comes to tackling the disruption.
Mr Shapps said ministers were urgently drawing up legal changes that could take effect ‘during this particular dispute’.
The plans involve removing a legal restriction introduced under Tony Blair that prevents employers taking on agency workers to cover work done by striking staff.
Mr Lynch said airlines had failed to prepare for the rise in demand for flights after Covid. Pictured is a scene from Heathrow today
It could be brought forward within a week or two as it would not require primary legislation.
Agency workers are unlikely to be able to fill skilled jobs such as signal operators or train drivers, but the measures will give rail firms flexibility to cover some roles. Mr Shapps told The Sunday Telegraph: ‘The country must not continue to be held to ransom.
‘These strikes are incredibly premature and we will use every possible lever to ensure that the public is protected in the future in particular.’
He added: ‘Rail workers have been able to top up wage packets reduced by striking through more overtime working on subsequent days. That won’t be happening this time. Rail managers and ministers are determined to ensure strikers cannot milk the system to maintain their income while inflicting misery on the public.’
Elsewhere, the RMT was also accused of ‘breathtaking hypocrisy’ after Mr Lynch attacked BP for raking in billions of pounds – despite the fact that the RMT has £254,000 shares in the company.
The union also has £540,000 shares in Shell and £700,000 in petroleum and mining company BHP – despite previously stating on record that the energy sector should be nationalised, The Sun reports.
Conservative MP Nigel Mills said: ‘This is breathtaking hypocrisy. They preach about wanting to nationalise the energy sector but have millions invested in these firms.’
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