Commuter belt MPs and passengers turned up the heat on unions on Friday over “cruel” and “selfish” rail and Tube strikes planned for next week during the cost-of-living crisis, school exam season and as Britain tries to recover from the Covid pandemic.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union was accused of “seriously misreading the public mood” with its plan to hit London with a “double whammy” of walk-outs, on the rail network and Underground on Tuesday, followed by two more days of rail strikes which will inflict around a week of travel chaos.
As temperatures were set to soar above 30C on Friday, MPs vented the anger of many of their constituents at the industrial action, which will cripple large parts of the country’s rail system.
Rob Butler, Conservative MP for Aylesbury, said: “This strike is unnecessary and it is cruel.”
Transport for London is “strongly encouraging” people not to travel on the Tube on Tuesday because of the 24-hour walkout by the RMT and Unite unions, which will see services axed or severely disrupted.
Head teachers have also warned of the impact of the strikes on exams. On Tuesday they include A-level maths, religious studies and German, and GCSE history, and on Thursday A-level chemistry and GCSE physics.
The industrial action will also hit many businesses as more workers stay at home. “These strikes are totally selfish,” said Gareth Johnson, Conservative MP for Dartford.
After billions were poured into the rail network to prop it up during the Covid crisis, Craig Mackinlay, Tory MP for South Thanet, said: “Whilst in the past certain forms of industrial action can garner public support, the union bosses have seriously misread the public mood over this one.”
Sarah Green, Liberal Democrat MP for Chesham and Amersham, said: “Passengers, and others commuting into London from the outermost stops on the Underground face a double whammy of disruption with strikes in London on 21st June.”
The disputes have flared over job cuts, pay and conditions for rail workers. Piling pressure on Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to play a more active role to resolve the row, Canterbury Labour MP Rosie Duffield said: “I do not want to see this strike action go ahead — it would be bad for workers, passengers, and the economy.”
But Joy Morrissey, Tory MP for Beaconsfield, put the blame firmly on the unions, saying: “After Covid and in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, this is the last thing the British public need.”
More than 40,000 RMT union members from Network Rail and around a dozen train companies, including guards and signalling operators, are threatening to strike next week.
The union claims Network Rail plans to axe up to 2,500 jobs as part of a £2 billion savings programme, including workers who maintain tracks, signals and overhead lines. With the number of train passengers having fallen, with more now working from home, rail chiefs argue that between 1,500 and 2,000 fewer staff will be needed but that these cuts could be made by voluntary means.
Commuters at Ealing Broadway station, which offers rail and Underground services, criticised the strikes. Luke Davis, 42, an engineer who uses the Central line to get to Holborn, said: “This action is selfish and misguided.”
Mohammed Acktar, 24, who works in retail and lives in Hounslow, added: “It’s an insult for us commuters,” while student Siobahn Huggins, 20, said: “The issue with kids having trouble getting to their exams is awful.”
Ministers say unions and rail bosses must thrash out a deal to avoid the strikes and have discussed whether Royal Parks could be opened up for motorists to use.
National Rail is warning that around half of all rail lines will be closed during the strikes next week, which also includes a walk-out on Saturday 25 June, with passengers being advised not to travel on trains unless necessary.
Knock-on effects will see cuts to services on the days after strikes.
Bracknell Tory MP James Sunderland said: “Perhaps the Mayor of London might wave Ulez and the congestion charge for those now having to drive into London?”
Mr Shapps has warned union members they “risk striking yourselves out of a job” by encouraging working from home.
But RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “It is clear now the Government are intent on making this industrial dispute over pay and jobs into a political fight with RMT.”