On the Picket Line

UK rail workers vote to strike for better pay and to stop job cuts

By Ólöf Andra Proppé
June 13, 2022

MANCHESTER, England — A large majority of the 40,000 union members at 15 train operating companies across the U.K. and Network Rail, the company responsible for rail infrastructure, voted May 25 to authorize a strike over wages, job cuts and work conditions.

“There’s such a great buzz about the solid ballot results,” said Clayton Clive, a train conductor at Piccadilly station here and secretary of the Manchester South Rail Maritime and Transport union branch.

Many rail workers are in the third year of a pay freeze and inflation is now 9%, according to the official consumer price index. Gas and electricity costs have risen by 53.5% and 95.5% respectively over the last year; car fuel by a third and supermarket “low-cost” food items are up 50%. The government-run Network Rail is also cutting 2,500 maintenance jobs, which will impact rail safety.

Workers who voted to strike include conductors, station workers, signalers, track maintenance workers and some drivers.

In an attempt to divide rail workers from other working people and undercut support for a strike, the London Times claimed the union is “not just against the rail companies but also the traveling public and the taxpayer.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps threatened legislation to require some rail workers to break any strike so that bosses can keep a “minimum” of operations going, and to ban strike action by rail workers altogether if that level is not met.

Tens of thousands of rail workers employed by contractors and agencies were not included in the union’s ballot. The union is pressing for talks and says it will hold daylong walkouts beginning in mid-June. Strikes would take place in both freight and passenger rail.