Rail strikes brought further misery to millions across the country on Saturday, including major disruption in Birmingham as it hosted one of the busiest days of the Commonwealth Games.
The latest round of strikes in a summer of passenger chaos has sparked bitter exchanges between union leaders and ministers.
As thousands of train drivers from seven operators, including West Midlands Trains and Southeastern, walked off their pay, large swathes of the rail network in England and Wales were left without services.
It also meant there were no trains in England’s second largest city except for a ‘special shuttle’ between Birmingham New Street and Birmingham International to help people get to events Commonwealth Games..
With frustration evident on both sides, Aslef accused Transport Secretary Grant Shapps of lying about negotiations over rail strikes this summer. Mick Whelan, General Secretary of Aslef, said: “We are not dragging our feet in negotiations; we are negotiating with 14 private companies. We do not work for the government or the DfT [Department for Transport].”
Whelan was responding to comments from Shapps, who had accused “militant union leaders” of crippling the country.
Writing in The Times, Shapps said: “RMT [union] tramples reform and Aslef drags its feet in negotiations as both call for new strikes.
The Department for Transportation later released a statement saying it was “misleading” to suggest Shapps should get involved in wage and labor practice negotiations.
Amid growing acrimony, Tory West Midlands Mayor Andy Street joined the ranks, describing the strikes as a “cynical manipulation of the Games”. He said: “It’s an international celebration and I think it’s a real shame that it’s being targeted in this way.”
Saturday’s busy Games schedule included gymnastics, T20 cricket, swimming, boxing, hockey and netball.
These events, however, were not the only thing affected. Trips to the first games of the season for most English Football League clubs and a Lady Gaga concert in London have also been hit, the latest chapter in a series of walkouts.
Passengers were disrupted on Wednesday due to a railway strike after around 40,000 RMT members from Network Rail and 14 other rail companies quit over pay, job cuts and job losses. changes to the terms and conditions.
On Saturday, Aslef said it was striking because rising inflation meant workers’ wages were falling in value, while railroad bosses pocketed huge wages. Explaining the strikes, Whelan said they were “the last resort” and that many Aslef members had not received a pay rise in three years and wanted the “ability to bargain”. “The people we work for have made hundreds of millions of pounds and given money to their shareholders,” Whelan said.
The latest strike, led by around 5,000 members, has also affected Arriva Rail London – which operates the London Overground – Greater Anglia, Great Western Railway, Hull Trains and Heathrow Express.
No trains were running on the south east, while operators including Great Western – which operates services between England and Wales – had cut services significantly.
Snow Hill station in central Birmingham was fully closed, with picketers standing just yards from the Commonwealth Marathon route, which itself closed many of the city’s roads.
Games organizers were encouraging ticket holders traveling locally to walk or cycle if possible, and said additional park and ride services were being put in place.
An additional 600 buses were used to help visitors get to the 16 venues where the events were taking place.
Saturday’s statement from the DfT was released to clarify Shapps’ role during the strikes.
He said: “His role is to protect the public purse, ensuring value for money for the hard workers of this country.
“As such, he is required to set the limits of taxpayer support and ultimately to sign any agreement, not to be involved in negotiating any agreement, and his contracts with operators allow him to do just that.”
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