Thousands of rail workers at four companies are to be balloted for strikes in disputes over job cuts and industrial relations, it was announced today.
The move by the Rail Maritime and Transport Union threatens the worst outbreak of disruption on the railways for years including the prospect of strikes on busy commuter routes into London.
The union said it will coordinate a ballot among more than 3,500 workers at South West Trains, First Capital Connect and National Express East Anglia over job cuts while around 300 of its members at London Overground will vote on whether to take industrial action over claims that industrial relations have broken down at the company.
Voting in all four ballots will start on 3 March and close on 17 March.
The union claimed that over 1,000 jobs were being cut at the three companies even though they continued to make healthy profits, adding that they had failed to receive assurances of no compulsory redundancies.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "Our members are facing industry-wide attacks on their jobs by train operators who between them have siphoned tens of millions of pounds out of the railways and our only possible response is to coordinate resistance to them.
"The job losses being imposed to protect the short-term, selfish interests of the parasites running our railways threaten to do lasting damage and they are the last thing our members, the travelling public, the environment or the economy need."
Mr Crow said the job losses announced in recent weeks represented a "full-scale onslaught" which he warned would affect services as well as safety on the railways.
He added: "Our reps are telling us that trained and experienced rail workers are being bullied and cajoled into leaving for fear of worse terms if they are forced out and that some operators are turning increasingly to using low-paid casual agency staff."
South West Trains has announced around 660 job losses, National Express East Anglia plans to cut 300 jobs while First Capital Connect is also threatening cuts.
The RMT claimed a complete breakdown of industrial relations at London Overground.