Video footage emerged of shadow chancellor John McDonnell promising the militant RMT union that it would be “in government with us” and would be “key advisers” on policies for transport and other areas.
In a separate speech, Jeremy Corbyn asked the RMT to “work as closely as possible together [to] take the fight to the Tories and win a Labour government… Together, we can deliver that better future [and] remove this Conservative government.”
The offer of influence — and the plea for support — from the two most senior figures in the Labour Party were made in 2018 and 2017.
The union leadership announced the current strike within a week of the general election being called at the end of October.
It issued a “special circular” to members on November 1, saying: “It is clearly in the interests of RMT members ... for the Tories to be defeated and for there to be a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn.”
Days later, on November 5, the RMT announced 27 days of strikeaction on South Western Railway (SWR) serving Waterloo this month — although not on polling day itself, December 12.
Although the union rejected calls to re-affiliate with Labour at a special conference last year, Electoral Commission records show that in the last five years it has given £302,936 to the Labour Party and to individual Labour MPs, including £50,000 to Mr Corbyn’s office, £9,125 to his Islington North constituency party and £16,000 to Mr McDonnell’s west London constituency party.
Grant Shapps, the Conservative Transport Secretary, said: “This is plainly a strike for politics and no other reason. Plunging millions of working people into chaos to try to manipulate a democratic election is a new low, even for Jeremy Corbyn.”
He confirmed that if the Conservatives won a majority they would enact legally binding minimum service requirements for railways during strikes to reduce disruption.
RMT leader Mick Cash, pictured, denied that the strike was timed for the election. In a statement to the Evening Standard he said: “The claim from the Tories that this strike action is politically motivated is total nonsense. If anyone engineered this dispute it was the Tories themselves. That would explain why a deal agreed verbally with SWR was pulled off the table after a call was made to those calling the shots. We believe that call was made to the Department for Transport. The Tories should keep their noses out of this dispute, allow us to strike and deal with SWR and stop treating passenger safety as a political football.”
The union has for months said it is fighting to prevent trains running without guards for safety reasons. But a document on its own website shows SWR has already conceded that fully qualified guards will be on all trains.
The union now says guards must decide when it is safe each time a train leaves a station, meaning that services could not run without their co-operation.
In a video message to the RMT last year, Mr McDonnell said: “We need the RMT alongside Labour in government introducing the policies that we need for RMT members… You’ll have a say over the future of your industries. You’ll be in government with us. You’ll be key advisers on the development of our transport policies and the way in which we will transform our country.”
Mr Corbyn told the RMT’s 2017 conference that he looked forward to a “close working relationship … over the next few years when we hope to be in a position to totally change legislation in this country…”
A Labour spokesman, asked to comment on the remarks by Mr McDonnell and Mr Corbyn, said: “All the rail unions, many passenger representatives and transport experts have helped develop our plans to bring the railways into public ownership, end rip-off privatisation, and invest so we can improve services.”