Rail union warns of national strike in wage dispute

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The Independent Online

Militant left-wingers threatened last night to bring nationwide disruption on the railways as passengers suffered the second day of a two-day stoppage on Britain's busiest commuter network.

Senior officials at the Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT) declared that the leadership should consider calling strike ballots at all train operating companies where increases in drivers' pay had outpaced rises awarded to other rail workers.

As the mood of militancy deepened on the rail network, workers at Manchester airport announced plans to stage a series of one-hour strikes in a dispute over security. Conservative leaders said industrial relations in Britain were "shambolic" and accused the Government of giving unions too much power.

Alex Gordon, a member of the RMT national executive, argued that a national dispute may be the only way of resolving the conflict. He said: "People are right to be worried about the prospect of a national strike. If RMT members on South West Trains are being threatened with being sacked, the union should be balloting nationally as soon as possible."

Bob Crow, the RMT's assistant general secretary, who is standing for the union's top job, threatened to withdraw funding from the constituencies of Labour MPs who are failing to back the industrial action.

The RMT, one of the Labour Party's largest donors, has already decided to review the funding arrangements. Among the constituencies helped by the RMT are those of the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott; the Leader of the Commons, Robin Cook; and the Deputy Chief Whip, Keith Hill, who was a transport minister.

The shadow Transport Secretary, Theresa May, said: "Passengers are the ones who suffer as the unions hold the rail industry to ransom. How can the public believe the Government is on their side when Labour MPs have accepted sponsorship from the RMT?"

The moderate white-collar rail union TSSA is to hold a strike ballot over pay among members at Arriva Trains Northern, which has already been hit by RMT action over the wages gap with drivers.

SWT again ran about one-third of its services across South-east England and into London Waterloo station because of the 48-hour RMT walkout, which was ending at midnight last night. Managers had been trained to take the place of guards and other staff.

SWT's managing director, Andrew Haines, said more managers would be trained so that further services could operate on the next strike days, set for 12 and 13 February.

* Stephen Byers, the Transport Secretary, announced an extra £2.2bn in government funding to pay for its 10-year plan to improve Britain's transport infrastructure. The increase, agreed with the Treasury at the weekend, takes the budget for the package to £181.9bn, and will help fund a £4.5bn increase in state support for the railways announced earlier this month.