Machinists’ strike ‘strongly supported’ as bitter dispute continues

The train drivers’ strike was “firmly supported” on Saturday amid new clashes between unions and the government over bitter disputes over wages, jobs and conditions.

The Assengers endured another day of misery on the road when thousands of Aslef members from seven railroad companies staged a 24-hour strike.

The union said it had received an offer from Transport for Wales for a 6.6% pay rise it would offer its members.

Pickets have been set up outside train stations, and Aslef said the strikers are getting support from the public.

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Protesters on a picket line near Leeds train station (Danny Lawson/PA)

General Secretary Mick Whelan confronted Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps, accusing him of lying.

He told the PA news agency: “Today’s strike was powerful. This shows the solidarity of our members and their determination not to succumb to provocations from Grant Shapps, the Department of Transportation and the railway companies.

“After the UK has kept moving during the pandemic, they expect our members who have not had a pay rise since 2019 to keep working, in fact for the sake of a pay cut.

“All we are asking for is an increase in line with the rising cost of living – soaring inflation is not the fault of the working people in this country, it is the fault of this government and its mishandling of the UK economy.

“Shapps has the key to this, but as you might expect, he rages and ducks and dives and tries to blame everyone else, really anyone, for the problems he created.

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Mick Whelan (center in suit), General Secretary of Aslef, joins the picket line outside Paddington Station in London (Maighna Nanu/PA)

“He could solve this problem in an instant by letting the railroad companies sit down at the negotiating table with a reasonable offer and negotiate with us.”

Former Labor shadow minister Sam Tarry, who was sacked after being interviewed during a picket last week, said he “absolutely” still thinks Sir Keir Starmer is the best candidate for prime minister.

Joining another line of pickets at London’s Paddington Station on Saturday, the former Shadow Transport Minister said it was “really important” for Labor MPs to show their solidarity with the striking workers.

He said: “We should never have been in a situation where we had a decree forbidding us to join pickets. This is the Labor Party, the clue is in the name. We are a party founded by trade unions.”

He added that the link between the trade union movement and the Labor Party is “inseparable” and “part of the same fabric”.

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Sam Terry, former Shadow Minister for Transport, joins the picket line outside Paddington Station (Maighna Nanu/PA)

Grant Shapps told The Times: “The two Meeks, RMT’s Lynch and Aslef’s Whelan, are cheating taxpayers, but not in the way they should.

“RMT stalls reform and Aslef drags out negotiations while both announce new strikes. Enough.”

In response, Mr Whelan told Times Radio: “I say Mr Shapps is lying, quite obviously.

“We are not dragging out negotiations, we are negotiating with 14 private companies, we do not work for the government or the DfT (Ministry of Transport).

“I would like Mr. Shapps to get us out of this Catch 22 that he misrepresents at every opportunity.”

The strike affected Arriva Rail London, Greater Anglia, Great Western, Hull Trains, LNER, Southeast and West Midlands Trains.

A DfT spokesman said: “It is an extreme misconception to invite the Minister of Transport to participate in these negotiations.

“His role is to protect the public purse, provide value for money to the hardworking people of this country. So he must set limits on taxpayer support and end up signing any deal rather than negotiating it, and his contracts with operators allow him to do just that.

“The union is well aware that negotiations about pay and working methods are not with the government, but with the employers of the people they represent. We once again call on trade union representatives to return to the negotiating table.”

Football fans who traveled to the opening of the English leagues on Saturday and people traveling to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham were among those affected by the disruption.

The strike will be intensified next month with a series of stoppages by Aslef, RMT and the Association of Transport Workers.

Meanwhile, Hitachi rail workers will go on strike for three consecutive days from Sunday over wages and working conditions.

Members of the railroad, maritime and transport (RMT) union, whose responsibilities include maintenance, are arguing over pay and issues such as breaks, vacation entitlement and shift length.