Liz Truss: I’ll stop endless travel misery inflicted on us by trade militants…

Rail strikes: John McDonnell shares support for a general strike

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Around 5,000 train drivers walked out in a dispute about pay, causing almost all services at seven of the country’s 34 train operators to be cancelled. The strike coincided with the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, the kick-off of the English Football League season, the start of Cowes Week and the final day of Glorious Goodwood.

Services across the south-east and eastern England, and West Midlands regional networks, as well as long-distance lines linking London with south-west England, north-east England and Edinburgh were affected.

No trains ran on the Heathrow Express, and a limited service ran between Birmingham New Street and Birmingham International to support the Games.

As a result the roads were exceptionally busy as the second full weekend of the summer holiday saw traffic on routes to popular destinations grow.

On the second day of the AA’s amber traffic warning, the M4/M5 interchange near Bristol and M5 south to Exeter were extremely congested with holidaymakers heading to Devon and Cornwall.

Other hotspots included the M25/M11 interchange, the M1 near Northampton, the M8 and Queensferry Crossing into Edinburgh, motorways surrounding Leeds and Bradford, and the M42 east of Birmingham.

Network Rail, which runs Britain’s rail infrastructure, said that the strike was expected to cause “significant disruption” this morning.

The 24-hour strike organised by train drivers’ union Aslef was the second significant industrial action during the past week after 40,000 members of the RMT and TSSA unions – which represent other rail staff – held a major strike on Wednesday.

There will see a series of stoppages on August 13, 18 and 20 across the rail network, with no end in sight to the row over jobs, pay and conditions. RMT members at Hitachi rail, whose jobs include maintenance, will stage a three-day walkout from today in a dispute over pay and issues including breaks, leave entitlement and shift length.

Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Express, Ms Truss said: “This week we have seen even more disruption to our economy and vital public services by those determined to try and hold this country to ransom through relentless strikes and industrial action.

“We cannot allow our transport network to be paralysed by militant trade unions disrupting the daily lives of hardworking people across the country.

“I will raise the threshold required for those voting in favour from 40 percent to 50 percent and expand this across all sectors.

“Within my first 30 days as Prime Minister, I will also introduce legislation to guarantee minimum service levels and increase the minimum notice period for strike action from two weeks to four weeks.

“I will go further by putting an end to members receiving tax-free payments on the days they are striking. It is not right that those striking should get something for nothing. Together with implementing a cooling off period so that unions can no longer strike as many times as they like in the six-month period after a ballot, this decisive action will curtail the ability of trade unions to cause persistent dismay and disruption to our daily lives.”

But shops, pubs and tourist attractions said the strikes were harming them as they struggled to survive following the pandemic. They warned a summer of uncertainty could see many go to the wall, with staff losing their jobs.

British Independent Retailers Association CEO Andrew Goodacre said: “No trains on certain days and a disrupted service on other days will reduce footfall.

“At a time of year when people want to be visiting seaside resorts, tourist attractions or simply going to work, we are seeing travel limited and the result is less footfall on the streets. These strikes damage businesses who are already vulnerable due to rising costs and people spending less money. 

“I will take action to put an end to the endless misery of rail strikes for millions and hinder the ability of unions to cripple our economy. Strike action must have significant support from union members in order to go ahead. 

“If we lost just 10 percent of independent retail businesses, we would see the end of 40,000 livelihoods where people have been working hard to earn a living.

“The strike is about protecting workers’ rights and more money but is hurting independent business owners who are working hard with no income protection or redundancy whatsoever.”

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said: “More rail strikes, as we enter the key summer holidays period for hospitality, will strike an unwelcome and hefty blow for the industry. 

“Tourists will find themselves unable to visit key events and attractions while customers and staff who rely on trains will struggle to get into towns and cities. 

“This will do further damage to a sector already struggling to survive, and facing soaring costs – the highest in 15 years – as well as a chronic staff shortage. We urge all stakeholders to cooperate in order to prevent any further strikes.”

Emma McClarkin, of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “We really are trying hard to bounce back after the pandemic but are faced time and time again with hurdles including extreme rising costs, labour shortages and now severe transport disruption.

“City centre pubs in particular have taken a blow, with some pubs reporting a 50 percent drop in trading on strike days.”

She added: “Pubs need a good summer of trading to make up for the past two years and further strikes must be avoided so customers and staff are able to travel with confidence and keep pubs across the country open.”

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