'No' vote puts pressure on Knapp: Supervisors refuse to back strike - Railtrack and Government delighted - More trains beat latest stoppage

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The Independent Online
A potentially fatal blow was dealt to the rail signalmen's strike last night when supervisors in the RMT union, who have helped keep services running, voted against joining the dispute.

The vote came as Railtrack announced that 36 per cent of the normal service operated during the latest 24-hour strike which finished at noon yesterday - the highest proportion since the dispute began.

Although Jimmy Knapp, leader of the RMT, put a brave face on the vote, which was 225 to 157 against industrial action, the decision may prove a turning point. The 550 RMT members are among 1,200 supervisors who have become increasingly crucial to Railtrack's strategy of gradually increasing services. They have been operating signalling equipment during the series of 24- and 48-hour strikes.

Had they voted in favour of the strikes the steady increase in services would have been reversed. Another 350 supervisors who are members of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association might have been tempted to join the dispute.

Mr Knapp said last night: 'The result is an obvious disappointment to the union but in some respects was not a total surprise.' He accused Railtrack of putting pressure on supervisors to vote no.

He continued: 'I think the pressure that has been brought to bear on people during the past few weeks is an obvious factor. People have been under tremendous pressure about their future promotion prospects. Although disappointing, the result is not crucial to the conduct of the dispute.' However, some senior RMT officials had been confident that the supervisors, many of whom are unhappy at the pressure from Railtrack to operate signal boxes, would vote 'yes'.

Both Railtrack and the Government were delighted by the ballot result. Dr Brian Mawhinney, Secretary of State for Transport, said: 'It is a clear signal to the RMT that their members want them to get back to the negotiating table and end this unnecessary strike.'

Bob Horton, chairman of Railtrack, said: 'It is time the RMT ended this charade, listened to their members and worked to resolve this dispute.'

During the 24-hour walkout that ended at midday yesterday, more services which had not operated previously on strike days were opened up. Cannon Street station in London was operating, which meant that for the first time since the initial strike on 15 June all the rail terminals in the capital were operational. The AA said that road traffic was no heavier than normal.

Despite defeat in the supervisors' vote the RMT executive decided yesterday to organise a ballot of crossing keepers on industrial action. But most of them work on smaller lines, not main routes, and they are unlikely to add much to the union's muscle.

There will undoubtedly be pressure on the RMT to make sufficient concessions to lead to a resumption of round-the table negotiations. Mr Knapp said that he had written to Mr Horton yesterday asking him to clarify reports that the management was prepared to consolidate half of its initial offer of 6 per cent. This would mean that 3 per cent would feed through into overtime and pensions, making the increase worth 4.7 per cent.

Mr Horton said last night that the total offer from Railtrack was now 'worth an average 7.2 per cent on earnings between April and October of this year and up to 10 per cent on overall earnings once the full restructuring agreement is implemented'.