Chancellor's 'anti-democratic' clampdown on unions met with a wave of industrial action

Empty platforms at King’s Cross railway station in London during a strike last month Credit: PA

Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng put himself on a collision course with trade unions by announcing plans to legislate to require them to put pay offers from employers to a vote of members.Amid a wave of industrial action by hundreds of thousands of workers, he told the Commons it is “unacceptable” that strike action is causing so much disruption.

Other European countries had minimum service levels to stop “militant trade unions” closing down transport systems, he said.

Kwasi Kwarteng promised MPs the government would do the same, “and go further”, adding: “We will legislate to require unions to put pay offers to a member vote to ensure strikes can only be called once negotiations have genuinely broken down.”

Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng. Credit: PA

Just after his comments, two unions, Unite and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), announced they will strike next month in the growing wave of industrial unrest sweeping the country.

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) said thousands of its members in Network Rail and a number of train operators will walk out on October 1.

Unions condemned comments made by the Chancellor, who told MPs the government is planning action to stop “militant” trade unions closing down the transport system.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT). Credit: PA

Responding to the Chancellor’s comments, Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, said: “We already have the most severe anti-democratic trade union laws in western Europe and this latest threat will rightly enrage our members.

“The Government should be working towards a negotiated settlement in the national rail dispute, not seeking to make it even harder to take effective strike action.

“RMT and other unions will not sit idly by or meekly accept any further obstacles on their members exercising the basic human right to withdraw their labour.”

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union and Aslef are also striking on October 1, threatening a complete shutdown of the UK’s rail system the day before the opening of the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.

Credit: PA

Aslef members are also striking on October 5, while the TSSA will hold further stoppages on October 5, 6 and 8.

TSSA members involved in the action include staff working in ticket offices, stations, control rooms, and other support roles.

The announcement comes after the TSSA cancelled strike dates scheduled for September following the Queen’s death.

The TSSA is seeking a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, a pay rise which meets the cost-of-living crisis and no unagreed changes to terms and conditions.

General secretary of the TSSA Manuel Cortes. Credit: PA

General secretary Manuel Cortes said: “We do not take this action lightly. We would much rather find a fair negotiated solution to this now long-running dispute, but we simply have no choice.

“A huge number of rail workers in our union, many of whom are longstanding members, had never been directly involved in an industrial dispute before this year.

“Across our railways, our members recently stepped up to the plate yet again and went above and beyond to meet unprecedented demand during the period of public mourning to provide additional services and keep the public safe, much like they did during the pandemic. They prove their worth time and time again and yet they are still undervalued.

“We can only hope the new Secretary of State for Transport can see sense where her predecessor could not. She has the power to mandate a fair pay rise, reasonable terms and conditions and end this dispute. It is time for train operators to meet us round the table and reach fair solutions.”

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Unite said its members employed in Network Rail’s electric control rooms will strike on October 1, 5 and 8.

General secretary Sharon Graham said: “Our members at Network Rail play a crucial and demanding role in maintaining the electrical supply to the rail network. To be faced with a three-year pay freeze during the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades is disgraceful. They will continue to receive Unite’s complete support.”

Unite national officer for rail, Harish Patel, said: “Network Rail need to urgently return to the bargaining table and make an offer that meets workers’ expectations and tackles the cost-of-living crisis.”