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Grant Shapps Accuses Union Leaders Of Waging "Class War" Ahead Of Nationwide Rail Strikes

5 min read

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has accused rail union leaders of misleading their members and seeking to trigger “some sort of class war” ahead of major nationwide strikes this week.

Speaking on the BBC Sunday Morning programme, Shapps said rail workers "by and large are much more moderate than their quite extreme union leadership".

The Transport Secretary also reiterated government pleas for the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) to call off strikes due to take place on all major rail lines across Britain on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

“I don't believe we need mass strikes in this country,” said Shapps.

“I certainly think people should be able to get to work next week.

“The strike is the last thing we need, it’s jumping the gun, it’s unnecessary, talks are still ongoing.”

Industrial action next week stems from a dispute between the government and RMT over rail worker pay, occupational health and safety and job security.

RMT says its 40,000 strong union membership has been subjected to "pay freezes, threats to jobs and attacks on their terms and conditions”.

The union also claims some of its members have been forced to rely on food banks and benefits just to get by, despite working full-time hours.

Mick Lynch, Secretary General of RMT, has been staunch in his demand for rail workers to receive a pay rise that is in line with inflation amid the ongoing cost-of-living pressures.

A previous offer of 2 per cent from Network Rail, the body that employs striking workers, was rejected.  

The government has accused RMT of jumping straight to last-resort measures to issue its demands rather than continuing to hold talks and negotiate with Network Rail.  

Shapps has been particularly critical of Lynch, who, this morning, he accused of being extremist.

“I know that Mike Lynch has said he's nostalgic for the power of the unions in the 1970s when they used to go and have sandwiches in Number 10,” Shapps said.

“We're not going back to those days in any pay discussion or in any negotiation,” he added.

“I appeal directly to people working for the railways, you are being led down a cul-de-sac by the union leadership telling you that there's no pay rise when there is (and) trying to create some sort of class war when there's none to be had."

The government has today come under pressure from a senior Conservative MP to do more to stop the strike action, however.

Former minister Jake Berry, who heads the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, told Times Radio that ministers should join negotiations with RMT in a late attempt to avert the disruption.

The government "should get around the table," Berry said. "What's the alternative? The only way this will be sorted out is by people sitting down with cold beer and sandwiches."

"I would call on all parties, including the government, to get around the table, because this is going to have a huge negative impact on people's lives," he said.

Labour's shadow Cabinet minister Lisa Nandy said Shapps had not done enough to find a resolution.

"Only a few years ago Mr Shapps said these workers were true heroes and government hasn’t lifted a finger to resolve issues," the shadow levelling-up secretary told Sky News.

“The biggest problem this country has, isn’t militant workers, it’s a militant government."

She added the reason there were no rail strikes happening in Wales was because Labour is in government there, whereas the Conservatives are in power in Westminster.

“It’s not about workers going on strike, it’s that we have a government on strike and not doing its job," Nandy said.

The shadow Labour minister did not say whether she would vote to go on strike, however, arguing that she did not want to pit working people - rail workers and commuters - against one another.

"I don't work on the railways, I work in Parliament," she told BBC Sunday Morning.

“I am on the side of people who are asking to be listened to and for the government to come to the table and negotiate seriously with them...

“They're asking for safety and security on the railways, they're asking not to be replaced with agency staff, they're asking not to lose their jobs and they're asking for a government that takes seriously the request for a pay settlement.”

Nandy refused to say exactly how much of pay rise rail workers should be awarded, telling the BBC she did not want to "undermine a collective bargaining process".

The income of rail workers varies depending on their role and the line they work for. The medium salary of an RMT member is £30,000 per annum.

“We have these processes for a reason,” she said.

“It's because time after time over the last century, when employers and workers have come together, they've been able to reach an agreement about what is fair and affordable and what helps people to make ends meet at the moment.”

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