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Unions back rail workers as largest industrial action on the railways for a generation begins

RMT lambasts Labour's silence and says the union wants more support from the party

UNIONS and campaigners have expressed solidarity for striking rail workers after last-ditch talks with railway companies failed to find a settlement to the dispute which begins on Tuesday.

Thousands of members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union at Network Rail and 13 train operators will walk out Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in the biggest outbreak of industrial action on the railways for a generation.

It comes after eleventh-hour talks held today fell through with both sides remaining deadlocked over a  deal.

The RMT said rail companies were “attacking” the Railway Pension Scheme and the Transport for London scheme, diluting benefits, making staff work longer and making them poorer in retirement, while having to pay increased contributions.

The union said thousands of jobs were being cut across the rail network with no guarantee of no compulsory redundancies.

Officials also claimed working practices were being changed and disputes over the role and responsibility of the guard were being restarted.

Ticket office closures were also being planned, said the RMT.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has been slammed for failing to help find a settlement to the dispute over protecting jobs and services and for a pay rise that keeps pace with the soaring cost of inflation.

It comes after a huge show of support for the RMT from protesters at the massive TUC-organised demonstration through central London on Saturday.

Speaking today, TUC deputy general secretary Paul Nowak said: “Grant Shapps needs to stop messing around.

“You can’t get that negotiated settlement if the government and employers insist on imposing job cuts and pay cuts unilaterally.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka also slammed Mr Shapps as “a shocking secretary of state”.

He said: “Most people will accept that this disruption is not down to workers who will now lose pay by withdrawing their labour.

“It’s down to the government who are allowing the strike to go ahead.”

CWU general secretary Dave Ward told the Star: “On behalf of the CWU, I send our solidarity and best wishes to every RMT member today.

“The decision to strike is never taken lightly, but RMT members were never going to accept an agenda of pay cuts for workers and payouts for bosses.”

NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: "Working people deserve a pay rise and job security at work.

“This includes rail workers as well as education staff.

“No-one welcomes disruption, and workers never easily vote for strike action.

“It is in the government’s gift to avert strike action; they should stop boycotting the negotiations."

RMT assistant general secretary John Leach lambasted the silence from Labour and said the union wanted more support from the party.

He also accused the government of “abjectly failing” in its responsibilities.

Mr Leach said: “We want political support wherever it can come from and the Labour Party really should refocus here on its responsibility to represent those in society that are looking for a better situation.

“But we’d also like the government to rise to the occasion.

“They are absolutely abjectly failing in their responsibilities. They are nowhere to be seen apart from name-calling from the sidelines.

“They need to do the right thing for the railway people of Britain.”

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh claimed: “We are on the side of both the public and these rail workers.”

She called on the government to help settle the dispute.

“It’s not possible for them to find a resolution and avoid the dispute without the government being represented at the talks, setting a mandate for the train operators and providing genuine scope in order to find a resolution,” Ms Haigh said.

Cat Hobbs, director of public ownership campaigners We Own It, said: “The government’s plan to close 1,000-plus ticket offices and cut 2,500 maintenance jobs is not only unconscionable as ticket prices skyrocket, it also makes passengers less safe.

“Grant Shapps should be improving services, not making them worse.

“The RMT are not only fighting a cost of living squeeze, but for the very future of our railway system.”

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