Train strikes could stretch on into the Autumn, a union boss has warned, as the country braces for the biggest industrial action in a generation this week.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), said that unions were not looking to compromise after negotiations with rail bosses failed to make progress over the weekend.
A series of strikes at Network Rail and 13 train operators will go ahead on Tuesday, Thursday and next Saturday amid an ongoing dispute over pay and pensions. RMT and Unite workers will also stage a walk-out on the London Underground on Tuesday.
Mr Lynch told the i newspaper that the public may have to accept disruption stretching beyond the summer, saying there “doesn’t seem to be much evidence at the moment that it’s going to go any other way”.
“The TSSA [union], which represents about 6000 Network Rail staff is balloting, Aslef, which along with us organises train drivers has about six or seven ballots being returned on July 11 – just a few weeks away. If there’s no settlement I can only see this escalating.”
A union source told the Telegraph that the RMT had a “mandate for strike action for six months”, stoking fears that industrial action could last up until Christmas.
The union can call strikes with a fortnight’s notice up until the end of November, which is six months after ballot results were returned at the end of May, the newspaper reported.
A Network Rail source told the newspaper that the industrial action this week was “unlikely” to be a one-off, with rail bosses fearing it could develop into a “battle of attrition”.
Earlier on Sunday, Mr Lynch claimed “people can’t take it anymore” as he defended the strikes during an interview with Sky News.
Speaking to Sophy Ridge, Mr Lynch said: “I think there are going to be many unions balloting across the country, because people can’t take it anymore.
“We have got people doing full time jobs who are having to take state benefits and use food banks. That is a national disgrace.”
Unions representing teachers and NHS workers have already threatened to take action if pay increases do not rise in line with inflation.
Amid claims the RMT is “gunning” for industrial action by the Transport Secretary, Mr Lynch added: “We don’t want to be the cause of disruption in people’s lives. We want a settlement to this dispute, but we are facing a crisis for our members.
“If we don’t play our hand thousands of my members will lose their jobs, railway services will be cut back, the safety regime that has been in place for a good deal of time will be cut back.
“We have to fight this.
“Because we haven’t had any pay rises we are faced with thousands of job cuts and they want to rip out terms and conditions in a form of fire and rehire that’s internal to the railway. It’s just as ruthless as P&O really.
“We are available to negotiate.”
Mr Shapps said the RMT had behaved poorly during negotiations but dismissed the Government’s ability to step into talks, in what he labelled as a “stunt” by the union.
He said: “They are gunning for this strike action I am afraid and it’s going to inconvenience millions of Britons.
“It is disastrous. It is no way to behave on the railway. There is no advantage to this. I know Mick Lynch says he is ‘nostalgic for union power’ but this is no way to behave.”