Unions see surge in membership interest as workers 'fight back against real-term pay cuts'

Rail workers form a picket line at Euston Station as RMT union members strike over jobs, pay and conditions. Credit: PA

Trade unions have seen a surge in membership enquiries as workers from an array of sectors are galvanised by the wave of industrial action given impetus by the country-wide rail strikes.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) said online enquiries into trade union membership have surged by some 700% since Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) employees launched strikes over pay, jobs and conditions earlier this week.

Google searches for "join union" have also increased by 184% in the last week, the TUC said.

Workers across the country are seeing how collective action can win higher pay and save at-risk jobs, according to TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady.

Labour Party deputy leader Angela Rayner (left) and Frances O'Grady take part in a TUC protest to demand action on the cost-of-living. Credit: PA

“Instead of helping workers with the cost-of-living crisis, Conservative ministers are demanding that we all accept real pay cuts," she said. “But people can see trade unions defending the pay of their members.

"And it’s not just the rail workers. Unions have been winning higher pay and saving jobs in workplaces across the country." The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which represents civil service workers, has recorded a 551% increase in visitors to the ‘Why join the PCS?’ page on its website this week.

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Around 640 people have joined the PCS union - which has a membership of 180,000 - since Monday, more than double the weekly average.

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: “As the government steps up its unwarranted attacks on our members, so our members are fighting back. “Non-members see that in their workplaces and in the media, and want to become an active part of a union that has their best interests at heart, protecting their jobs and campaigning for better pay." "And we expect to be welcoming more new members as our national pay ballot approaches, and for as long as the government persists with its unjustified and ideological cuts programme.”

Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham added to the sense of a revival of union interest, saying workers across the country are fighting back "against the attacks on their living standards".

"The system is rigged in favour of profiteering corporates who get fat by driving up inflation and holding down wages and politicians are unwilling or unable or to stop it," Ms Graham, whose union is the largest in the UK, said.

"Unions are now setting the agenda."

ITV News understands the number of new joiners to Unite is up considerably compared with the same period last year.

Many of these new sign-ups are from areas of the economy - such as hospitality - which have not historically been well represented by unions.

This flurry activity comes as the cost-of-living crisis and soaring inflation means many people's pay is not keeping up with rocketing prices and energy bills.

Doctors, bus drivers, airport workers, criminal barristers and local government staff are among the groups which have threatened to walk out.

The rail strike - which started on Tuesday and ends on Saturday - may not be the last, with RMT leader Mick Lynch hinting at further strikes over the summer if a negotiated settlement is not reached.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has been criticised for his lack of direct involvement in tense talks between union bosses and train operators.

The criticism is so widespread that leaders of more than 100 global transport unions from 52 countries have written to the transport secretary, urging him to meet with unions to resolve the dispute.

Members of the RMT picket at the entrance to Waverley Station in Edinburgh. Credit: PA

A letter co-ordinated by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), warned the dispute risks harming the UK’s credibility on industrial relations.

Stephen Cotton, ITF general secretary, said: “Unions across the world are shocked that less than a year after committing to supporting dialogue with trade unions at Cop26, the UK is set to impose cuts to railway services and scrap infrastructure projects at exactly the time when it should be expanding and promoting public transport. “The government pumped in millions to keep private companies afloat; the workers kept the system moving. “Grant Shapps must realise that the UK’s international reputation on industrial relations is at risk."

Mr Shapps said the strikes are unnecessary and maintains he has not been involved in talks because it should be up to the employers and unions to negotiate.