Union leaders accused of holding country to ransom

Mick Lynch argues with BBC host over reporting on strikes

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RMT boss Mick Lynch refused to apologise for causing Christmas chaos on the rail network as the first of a new series of walkouts began. And he warned the union could dig in with six months more of industrial action.

Support is beginning to drain away from the hard left general secretary with public backing dropping eight per cent and falling support within his own union for his brutal strategy.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appealed for an end to the “disruption” that is “going to make an enormous negative difference to people’s lives”.

He said: “In many cases, the offer that we have now put on the table … is higher than what people watching at home in the private sector are getting. 

“So I think we are taking a reasonable and fair approach and I’d ask the union leaders to engage with that and end this disruption, particularly at Christmas time, it’s going to make an enormous negative difference to people’s lives. There’s no need for it and I hope that we can find a way through.”

Mr Sunak told his Cabinet the government had been “fair and reasonable” in its approach to public sector workers by agreeing the independent pay review bodies’ recommendations for pay rises and in facilitating further discussions with unions and employers.

Official figures showed the number of working days lost to strike action is the highest in more than a decade.

The Office for National Statistics said that 417,000 working days were lost to labour disputes in October – the highest monthly level since November 2011.

Experts warned the wave of mass walkouts is having a devastating impact on businesses at what should be a boom time.

Analysis by Place Informatics showed footfall dropped in London’s key shopping areas by a fifth during October when days of rail strikes were staged.

Professor Len Shackleton, editorial and research fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Today’s younger businesspeople may have thought that the days of powerful unions holding the economy to ransom were ancient history. 

“However, the last six months, culminating in this increasingly chaotic Christmas, have shown that militancy is alive and giving business a good kicking. 

“The hospitality business, which normally relies on the festive season to generate most of the year’s profits, is being hugely hit by rail strikes. Many clubs and restaurants, already desperate after two years of lockdown, will close for good. Entertainment is also being hit, with pantos and West End shows likely to suffer.”

Support for striking railway workers has dropped eight points since October, according to Savanta ComRes.

More than half the country believes it is wrong to take industrial action over Christmas.

Chris Hayward, policy chairman at the City of London Corporation, said: “The rail strikes will be deeply disappointing for many City businesses, especially the hospitality sector ahead of the vital Christmas trading period. 

“Many SMEs in the Square Mile are finally getting back on their feet as footfall rises so these strikes are very damaging. I urge all parties to get around the negotiating table and find a resolution swiftly.”

December is the busiest month of the year for UK pubs, worth around £2.3bn, which helps shore them up during the quieter winter months.

Emma McClarkin, Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association said: “This week is usually the busiest of the year for our industry, but instead of being able to trade normally for the first time in three years, pubs in towns and cities across the UK are now seeing swathes of people rearranging Christmas parties and cancelling bookings.

“These were bookings our pubs desperately need, covid was unbelievably tough but what we’re facing now with spiralling costs and people watching more and more what they’re spending is hitting businesses even harder.

“Pubs really needed this Christmas trade to get them through the quieter months that follow, even more so after two years of restrictions, but now it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see how many will make it until Spring because their December trade is being decimated.”

Tina McKenzie, Policy Chair of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said:

“What’s supposed to be the busiest part of the year for many small businesses is now filled with uncertainties, as the rail strikes cast doubts on many people’s ability to get to pre-planned events, from the work Christmas party to the get-together with friends and family.

“Pubs, restaurants, bars and hotels are tearing their hair out over no-shows and cancellations. Small retailers are struggling with a drop in footfall as well as delivery issues. For retail and hospitality, the hopes for a return to this as their ‘golden quarter’ after two cancelled Christmases have been dashed. 

“Leisure and fitness businesses are worried for their peak trading period from next month if this disruption continues. Small business owners in all sectors are racking their brain over the impact on their businesses’ work schedules and whether they’ll have to rebook face-to-face meetings or rearrange work-from-home options for staff unable to commute – not to mention the impact if employees are unable to get on site in roles where working from home isn’t an option.

“Small firms want a rapid resolution to the situation, with all parties reaching an agreement to keep the economy on track and people’s livelihoods afloat.”

The proportion of rail workers who support Mr Lynch’s strategy has fallen from 91.7 per cent in November to 63.6 per cent this month.

In a series of tetchy broadcast interviews, Mr Lynch lashed out at GMB presenter Richard Madeley for “ranting” and BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter Mishal Husain for parroting” right-wing propaganda.

Mr Lynch also refused to say how much on average striking workers are losing by repeatedly striking.

Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said the RMT chief is hitting out because he “is worried that strikes won’t hold for 10 days” and he “knows he’s got to find a way to do a deal”.

He said the “heightened level of aggression” from Mr Lynch was because he is “feeling exposed”.

Royal Mail has brought forward the final posting dates for Christmas as Communication Workers Union members start another 48 hour walkout tomorrow.

Workers rejected a nine per cent offer over 18 months last month.

Customers were warned the last posting day of Friday December is “now likely to be even busier” than normal and they should postcards and gifts as soon as possible.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy announced its members will stage their first walkout out over pay in the new year.

Meanwhile, police officers may be called upon to drive ambulances to cover striking paramedics next week.

Other strikes this month include DVSA driving examiners, National Highways workers and Border Force staff.

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