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Rail strikes: RMT union says members have ‘grit and determination’ for long dispute if necessary – live


RMT says its members have ‘grit and determination’ for long dispute if necesary

John Leach, assistant general secretary of the RMT rail union, was on the Today programme this morning talking about the proposed strikes. Here are the main points he made.

  • Leach criticised the government for being “nowhere to be seen” in the dispute. He said:

We’d … 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.

  • He said that Network Rail staff had been offered a 2% pay rise, and that this was “nowhere near enough”. He said the union also wanted a package ensuring job security, because Network Rail wanted 3,000 job cuts. And he said train operating companies had not yet offered any pay rise. The train operating companies also wanted to close all ticket offices, he said.
  • He said management had not explicitly promised no compulsory redundancies. If they were to say that, the union would be “a third of the way through this negotiation”, he said.
  • He said his members had the “grit and determination” for a long dispute if necessary. Asked if the union had the stamina for a “war of attrition”, he replied:

The men and women in my union who keep Britain moving across the entire railway network are some of the most determined, professional, dedicated people you’ll ever meet.

They kept this country moving through the pandemic, they keep the railways moving every single day and it’s that kind of grit and determination that’s going to mean that they will stick with this negotiation and justice for themselves in that regard, right through to the end.

That’s why we’re so clear about this. We didn’t want to be in this situation – that has to be said – but we are determined to see this through.

  • He said his union would like to see more support from Labour. He 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. That’s us on this occasion, so we would like more.

Rail strike will make travel ‘extremely difficult’ for commuters, No 10 says

And here are some more lines from what was an unusually long Downing Street lobby briefing.

  • No 10 accepted that the rail strike will make life “extremely difficult” for commuters this week. The PM’s spokesperson said:

For those that have no choice but to come in it will be extremely difficult tomorrow and I think the public will understandably want to know why they are being put in this position.

We believe we are seeking to offer a fair and reasonable pay rise and modernise the railway services for the long term, and we need to get rid of some of these outdated rules and procedures, some of which have not been updated for decades and which don’t serve the public.

  • The spokesperson said it would not be “helpful” for the government to insert itself into the talks with rail unions “at this stage”. He said:

Talks are continuing today but the government won’t be taking part in them. You’ve heard from train operators themselves who have said that it isn’t the government’s place to be at the table and it wouldn’t be helpful to the ongoing discussions to insert the government into the negotiating process at this stage.

  • The spokesperson refused to restate No 10’s criticism of the governor of the Bank of England, from February, over his suggestion that workers should not ask for big pay rises. Andrew Bailey was effectively reprimanded by Downing Street when he said this earlier in the year, but this morning Simon Clarke, chief secretary to the Treasury, delivered what was effectively the same message. (See 9.21am.) Asked if No 10 still thought what Bailey said was wrong, the spokesperson replied:

The government wants a high wage, high growth economy and, as I said at the time, it’s not down to governments to dictate to private companies what wages they set. Everyone has different circumstances, so a top-down approach is not our position.

But, clearly, the government is taking heed of the economic situation in which we find ourselves and we expect private-sector companies will do so as well.

  • The spokesperson said the government had not yet taken a final decision over whether to retain tariffs on Chinese steel imports (the issue that prompted Lord Geidt’s resignation as No 10’s ethics adviser last week).
  • The spokesperson admitted that Geidt “may not be that well known publicly”. He was responding to questions about whether No 10 agreed with Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, that voters did not care who replaced him. On an LBC phone-in Dorries said:

You call him Lord Geidt. I think the rest of the country had never even heard his name before and used to call him Lord Geddit. I don’t think they give a fig who replaces him or even who he was, or what he did.

No 10 unable to explain initial reluctance to deny story saying Johnson wanted to give Carrie top FCO job as affair started

At the Downing Street lobby briefing the prime minister’s spokesperson denied a claim that Boris Johnson wanted to appoint Carrie Symonds – now his wife, but at the time his partner – to a government job in 2020. The denial came during a set of curious exchanges about a story saying that he wanted to make her his chief of staff when he was foreign secretary that was published, and then mysteriously dropped, by the Times on Friday night.

The Times story prompted Dominic Cummings, the PM’s former chief adviser, to post this on Twitter yesterday. Cummings seems to have a particular vendetta against Carrie Johnson, whom he holds partly responsible for forcing him out of No 10 in 2020 and he has repeatedly argued that Johnson is not fit to be PM. But many of the allegations he has made, since his resignation, about misconduct within Downing Street have turned out to be well founded.

The ‘missing story’ (pulled by Times after no10 call Fri night) is true. Walters repeatedly published accurate stories, e.g on illegal donations. Times pathetic to have folded & shd reverse ferret. Truth is worse! 🛒 wanted to appoint girlfriend to gvt job in Q3 2020 too

— Dominic Cummings (@Dominic2306) June 19, 2022

Asked about the claim that Johnson wanted to give his partner a job in 2020, the spokesperson replied:

My understanding is that that claim is also untrue. These claims have been reported before and denied before.

But the spokesperson was more circumspect when asked about the claim in the Times story that Johnson wanted to make Carrie his chief of staff at the Foreign Office in 2018, when their relationship was still secret and he was married. The spokesperson declined to give a direct denial, saying: “As a function of my role, I don’t comment on what the prime minister did before he was prime minister.” But he did point out that the story had been denied by Carrie Johnson, and by political aides in No 10.

Not everyone has found these denials convincing. Here is an extract from the story by my colleagues Rowena Mason and Jim Waterson.

The story [in the Times] expanded on claims in a biography of Carrie Johnson by the Tory donor and peer Lord Ashcroft that Johnson had tried to appoint her to a £100,000-a-year government job when he was foreign secretary in 2018.

It said the idea had fallen apart when his closest advisers learned of the idea to hire the Tory press chief, then known as Carrie Symonds, whom he later married. Johnson was then still married to Marina Wheeler, a barrister.

A source with knowledge of the situation told the Guardian this account was correct.

However, a spokesperson for Carrie Johnson was categoric. “These claims are totally untrue,” she said.

At the lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson denied that Johnson spoke to Tony Gallagher, the Times deputy editor who was in charge of the paper on Friday, to get the story dropped. But the spokesperson did not deny that someone else from No 10 may have called to get the story pulled after the first edition. “I don’t know exactly who spoke [to whom], but as you all know, when claims are put to us, we regularly spoke to those journalists involved,” the spokesperson told the lobby.

The Times story was written by Simon Walters, a veteran political correspondent who until recently was assistant editor at the Daily Mail. He told the New European that he stood by his story 100% and that, although he approached No 10 and Carrie Johnson’s office before the story was published, neither of them offered an on-the-record denial.

Asked why No 10 did not tell Walters on the record that his story was not true before it was published, the PM’s spokesperson was unable to give a clear explanation. He just said:

I think statements have been issued by Mrs Johnson and my No 10 colleagues over the weekend.

Johnson has had operation under general anaesthetic on his sinuses, No 10 says

Boris Johnson had an operation under general anaesthetic on his sinuses this morning, Downing Street has revealed. The operation went well, Johnson is back at home recovering, but it has emerged that Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, has been on standby today to deputise for him – in the event of No 10 having to deal with an emergency.

The disclosure came at this morning’s lobby briefing, where the prime minister’s spokesperson said that Johnson had a “very minor, routine operation” at an NHS hospital in London that had been “scheduled for a while”. He went into hospital at 6am, and was back at No 10 soon after 10am, the spokesperson said. He said Johnson was now at home resting.

The spokesperson would not give further details of Johnson’s medical condition, or say how long he had been waiting for an operation.

Asked who was in charge of the UK’s “nuclear button” while the PM was under general anaesthetic, the spokesperson said the deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, was aware of the PM’s operation, as was the cabinet secretary, Simon Case.

It is understood that, under standard No 10 procedure, if the PM has to undergo an operation under general anaesthetic, for the next 24 hours any “significant decisions” can be referred to the deputy prime minister. But it is not expected that this will need to happen in this case.

Johnson is still expected to chair cabinet tomorrow, and he is due to travel to the Commonwealth summit in Rwanda later this week.

When William Hague was Conservative leader when he underwent surgery for sinusitis. Ed Miliband also had surgery on his nose when he was leader of the opposition.

Boris Johnson photographed on Friday, after his return from Kyiv.
Boris Johnson photographed on Friday, after his return from Kyiv. Photograph: Joe Giddens/AFP/Getty Images

There will be an urgent question on Ukraine at 3.30pm in the Commons, followed by a statement from Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, on the rail strike at around 4.15pm.

AFTER 3:30 PM….

1. UQ – @Tobias_Ellwood – Asking MoD for a statement on UK and NATO military commitments to Ukraine.     

2. Statement – @grantshapps – Industrial action on the railway

— Labour Whips (@labourwhips) June 20, 2022

Tim Shoveller, the chief negotiator for Network Rail, told the Today programme this morning that he did not think the government needed to get involved in the talks on the rail dispute. He said this was an issue for the industry to resolve with trade unions.

He said managers wanted to make the rail industry “more efficient to generate the funds so that we can make the pay awards that our colleagues want”.

He also said a prolonged dispute would be a “disaster”. Asked if Network Rail was willing to see the dispute run throughout the summer, Shoveller replied:

I think it would be a disaster for the country. It would be a disaster for our passengers and, look, really bad for our employees, who would lose loads of money by having a long, drawn-out strike – that really is the worst place we can get to.

At the end of the day, the facts about the support the government’s provided in terms of the £16bn through Covid, etc – all of those are well-known and documented.

It’s a tragedy that the union have brought the strike action around so quickly because one day there will be a resolution to this, it will only come through talking and the fact is that the strike action really doesn’t help that, in fact, it only makes it so much worse.

Criminal barristers vote for strike action over legal aid rates

Barristers have voted to go on strike in a row over legal aid funding, PA Meda reports. PA says:

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA), which represents barristers in England and Wales, said several days of court walkouts will begin from next week.

The promised industrial action, announced on Monday following a ballot of members, comes at a time of significant backlogs across the court system.

They are the latest profession to go on strike, ahead of planned action by rail workers later this week, and reports of unrest among teaching staff and NHS employees.

The CBA said around 81.5% of the more than 2,000 members to respond supported industrial action.

Jo Sidhu QC and Kirsty Brimelow QC from the CBA said:

This extraordinary commitment to the democratic process reflects a recognition amongst criminal barristers at all levels of call and across all circuits that what is at stake is the survival of a profession of specialist criminal advocates and of the criminal justice system which depends so critically upon their labour.

Without immediate action to halt the exodus of criminal barristers from our ranks, the record backlog that has crippled our courts will continue to inflict misery upon victims and defendants alike, and the public will be betrayed.

As PA Media reports, the strike action is intended to last for four weeks, beginning with walkouts on Monday and Tuesday 27 and 28 June, increasing by one day each week until a five-day strike from Monday 18 July to Friday 22 July. It means cases at which barristers are required will likely have to be postponed, including crown court trials.

The strike has been called over the legal aid rates paid to defence barristers.

The government has been seeking to reduce public support for the rail unions by stressing that train drivers are well paid. At cabinet last week Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, told colleagues that the median pay of rail workers was significantly higher than other public sector workers – with nurses receiving a median of £31,000 compared to £59,000 for train drivers.

But the strike does not just involve train drivers, and other workers in the rail industry earn less. The RMT says the median salary of its members is £31,000.

David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, is being investigated over allegations believed to centre on the late registration of financial interests, PA Media reports. Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, is looking at possible breaches to the MPs’ code of conduct under areas covering earnings, gifts and foreign travel. The disclosure was included in an update on parliament’s website.

RMT says its members have ‘grit and determination’ for long dispute if necesary

John Leach, assistant general secretary of the RMT rail union, was on the Today programme this morning talking about the proposed strikes. Here are the main points he made.

  • Leach criticised the government for being “nowhere to be seen” in the dispute. He said:

We’d … 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.

  • He said that Network Rail staff had been offered a 2% pay rise, and that this was “nowhere near enough”. He said the union also wanted a package ensuring job security, because Network Rail wanted 3,000 job cuts. And he said train operating companies had not yet offered any pay rise. The train operating companies also wanted to close all ticket offices, he said.
  • He said management had not explicitly promised no compulsory redundancies. If they were to say that, the union would be “a third of the way through this negotiation”, he said.
  • He said his members had the “grit and determination” for a long dispute if necessary. Asked if the union had the stamina for a “war of attrition”, he replied:

The men and women in my union who keep Britain moving across the entire railway network are some of the most determined, professional, dedicated people you’ll ever meet.

They kept this country moving through the pandemic, they keep the railways moving every single day and it’s that kind of grit and determination that’s going to mean that they will stick with this negotiation and justice for themselves in that regard, right through to the end.

That’s why we’re so clear about this. We didn’t want to be in this situation – that has to be said – but we are determined to see this through.

  • He said his union would like to see more support from Labour. He 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. That’s us on this occasion, so we would like more.

Labour accuses ministers of ‘hobbling’ talks to try to avert rail strike by not getting involved

Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, claimed this morning that the government was “hobbling” talks between unions and rail operators. She told the Today programme:

At the moment, without the government there, the negotiations are a sham.

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. Without them there, it’s impossible for them to find a way forward and, therefore, it is inevitable that industrial action will happen.

Asked about claims by ministers that it would be wrong for them to be in the talks because they are a matter for management and unions, Haigh replied:

The Department of Transport are a party because they set the negotiating mandate for the train operating companies and they have so far refused to do that, so not only are they boycotting the talks, they’re actually hobbling them and therefore that’s why it is imperative that they step in.

More than half of trains to Glastonbury cancelled due to rail strikes

More than half of the trains due to serve the Glastonbury festival have been cancelled because of rail strikes, PA Media reports. PA says:

Tens of thousands of revellers will be forced to find alternative routes to the site in Pilton, Somerset.

Great Western Railway (GWR) is operating just five services from London Paddington to Castle Cary on Thursday, with a total of 24 between Wednesday and Friday.

Before the industrial action was announced, 51 trains were expected to run on the route over the three-day period.

GWR told passengers: “We plan to maintain timetabled trains between Castle Cary and London Paddington throughout the course of the Glastonbury festival.

“Some services might be subject to alterations to train times and we will be in contact with customers who have already booked seats on board those trains.”

It added: “Other parts of the GWR network are likely to be more affected by the strike action and customers may need to consider alternative ways to travel to a station serving Castle Cary.”

Clarke rejects claims from airline bosses that Brexit to blame for staff shortages affecting passengers at airports

In his Sky News interview Simon Clarke, chief secretary to the Treasury, was also asked about the chaos that some travellers have been experiencing at airports this summer because of staff shortages.

  • Clarke rejected claims from airline bosses that Brexit was to blame for the problems the travallers are facing at airports. Asked if Brexit was responsible, he replied:

No. I think what we’re seeing here is the results of the airline industry, having obviously massively contracted during the pandemic, now it’s facing this surge of pent-up demand as things stand back up. And, truth be told, it isn’t resourced and manned for that challenge. That’s why I think it is sensible that what we’re starting to see now is some of the airports revising their schedules.

When it was put to him that people like Michael O’Leary, head of Ryanair, and József Váradi, head of Wizz Air, are blaming Brexit (see here and here), Clarke replied:

Ultimately, I think the British people made their views very clear on unlimited immigration from the EU. And there were very good reasons why we voted to have a controlled immigration policy.

But I do not accept that this is simply a direct, pass-through effect from Brexit. What I would say is this is a result of an industry which massively slimmed down, and understandably so at a time when flying was well nigh impossible for a year and a half, two years.

It’s now massively expanded its operations and the pressure is enormous and it hasn’t managed to align the two.

Clarke, a Brexiter, is one of the ministers most reluctant to admit that Brexit has caused problems for the economy. Last year he refused to accept that Brexit was a factor in the UK experiencing a shortage of HGV drivers – even though Boris Johnson subsequently argued that higher wages paid to HGV drivers in response to the labour shortage would be part of his Brexit bonus.

  • Clarke said that airlines were currently “offering flights they simply can’t honour” and that that was “terrible for passengers”.

Minister suggests Bank of England governor was right in February to warn about dangers of inflationary pay demands

And here are some more lines from what Simon Clarke, the chief secretary to and the Treasury, said in his morning interviews about the rail strike, and pay awards generally.

  • Clarke was unable to explain why No 10 slapped down the governor of the Bank of England earlier this year for saying people should not expect big pay rises – when he is now saying exactly the same thing. (See 9.21am.) Asked why Andrew Bailey was rebuked by No 10 for his comment, Clarke just said: “Ultimately what a spokesperson has said is for them.” In February Bailey said:

I’m not saying nobody gets a pay rise, don’t get me wrong, but I think what I’m saying is we do need to see restraint in pay bargaining otherwise it will get out of control.

This morning, asked if he was saying people in the public sector should not expect a pay rise in line with inflation, Clarke replied: “Correct.”

  • He defended the government’s decision not to get directly involved in the talks between management and the rail unions ahead of this week’s strike. “Ultimately, it will only confuse things if we add a third party to these negotiations,” he told the Today programme.
  • He said the rail industry needed structural reform. He told Sky News:

The train operating companies and Network Rail are working to deliver a sensible programme of reform and a sensible and fair pay deal with the trade unions.

The practices that are in place across the network are out with the ark, frankly, and need to be reformed.

It cannot be the case that we have put in £16bn during the pandemic as taxpayers, worth £600 per household, and still have a railway system where some of what goes on occurs and where, frankly, fares are higher than they need to be and efficiency is lower than it should be because of the way the trade unions operate.

  • He said he thought “very, very few people” – in the private or public sector – would be getting pay offers in double figures. “I think it would be highly unsustainable if they were to do so,” he claimed.
  • But he also claimed that he expected public sector workers to be offered “good” pay offers – even though he stressed that they would not match the level inflation is due to reach this year. (See 9.21am.) He told Sky News:

From what I understand, and it is early days, [proposed public sector pay] awards are coming in at a sensible level, which is great. It does mean that there will be a good pay offers, I think, on the table for public sector workforces.

It’s important that we wait and see what those awards are, and then obviously it will be for individual workforces and the trade unions to respond.

But I do think people have to recognise, if we’re going to forestall the evil of inflation – inflation destroys savings, it destroys growth. It damages any economy where it gets an endemic grip – then we are going to have to show collective, society-wide responsibility.

Treasury minister says workers in private and public sectors should not expect pay rises to match inflation

Good morning. Inflation is at its highest level for 40 years and Britain’s return to the economic landscape of the 1970s/1980s will take a step forward this week with the biggest national railstrike for a generation. In several other key public services, unions are also threatening strike action this summer. This is from my colleague Gwyn Topham on the rail strikes.

The issues are slightly different for different sectors, but at the heart of this week’s rail strike, and all the other potential walkouts that may come later, is pay. With inflation heading towards 11%, real-terms pay is falling.

Simon Clarke, chief secretary to the Treasury, has been giving interviews this morning and he delivered what may be the bluntest message yet from a government minister that workers can’t expect pay rises that will match inflation.

Stressing that this was a message for people in the private sector as well as in the public sector, Clarke told the Today programme:

In the current landscape of inflation at 9, bordering 10%, it is not a sustainable expectation that inflation can be matched in pay offers. That is not something that’s going to be seen – across, frankly, the private sector as well as the public sector.

We cannot get into a world where we are chasing inflation expectations in that way because that is the surest way I can think of to bake in the repeat of the 1970s which this government is determined to prevent.

I will post more from Clarke’s interviews, and the strike-related items on the morning programmes, shortly.

Here is the agenda for the day.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

2.30pm: Priti Patel, the home secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

3pm: Alistair Jack, the Scottish secretary, gives evidence to the Commons Scottish affairs committee.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com

Simon Clarke
Simon Clarke Photograph: Sky News





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