The shadow levelling up secretary, Lisa Nandyis the first Labor frontbencher to break ranks and publicly say she supports strikes by rail workers in the coming weeks if ministers fail to address their concerns.
Rail workers belonging to the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers’ union (RMT) will stage walkouts on 21, 23 and 25 Junewith the effects also likely to disrupt many services on days where workers are not on strike.
Network Rail is drawing up contingency plans to enable some main-line services to run. The strikes, which will include most of its signaling staff as well as the onboard and station staff of 13 train companies, are expected to leave fewer than one in five services running, probably only between 7am and 7pm on main lines.
The government has called the strikes “self-defeating”, saying they could drive more passengers away in the long term.
Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Nandy said: “We want to avoid the strikes and we’re on the public’s side on this.
“We’re also on the rail workers’ side and I was speaking to some rail workers on Monday just before I got on the train to come down to London.
“They’re dealing with the same pressures that everyone else is – the cost of food, the cost of soaring inflation rates, taxes going up, and they’re really struggling to make ends meet.
“They’re the people that we went out and applauded during the pandemic because they kept our services going and they’ve seen their pay in real terms attacked again and again over the last decade.”
A spokesperson for Labor Leader, Keir Starmer, previously said he supported the general right of workers to withdraw their labor, but believed the rail strikes should not go ahead.
Commentators have noted that other members of the Labor frontbench have been conspicuously quiet on the issue.
The RMT said it would be open to “meaningful proposals” that would guarantee no compulsory redundancies and address pay.
In the Commons, Boris Johnson described the strikes as “reckless and wanton”.
The prime minister’s spokesperson also said strikes would drive people away from using the railways when passenger numbers were already down on pre-pandemic levels.
“It is a self-defeating approach which will do lasting damage to not just the railways but to rail workers,” they said.
The planned industrial action – after a ballot of 40,000 members across Network Rail and 13 train-operating companies last month – is due to start on Tuesday 21 June and run on alternating days until the Saturday.
Compulsory redundancies among rail workers have not yet been threatened by either Network Rail or train operators, but as passenger numbers remain stubbornly below pre-Covid levels, companies are looking for up to £2bn in annual savings.
Many rail workers had their wages frozen during the pandemic and have not yet been offered a pay rise, with inflation at its highest for decades.
About 10,000 RMT members working for London Underground will also strike on 21 June, in a parallel dispute over jobs and pensions, bringing the network to a halt. The Unite union on Tuesday announced that about 1,000 members at Transport for London, including some tube staff, would stage a 24-hour walkout the same day, intensifying disruption.