Rail strike hopes fade as Knapp flies out

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The Independent Online
JIMMY KNAPP, the rail union leader, yesterday left for a conference in Geneva as hopes evaporated of an early settlement of the signal workers' dispute.

Mr Knapp, general secretary of the RMT transport union, will encounter criticism for his decision to attend the International Transport Workers' Federation congress, but there appeared no chance of avoiding the 24-hour signal workers' strike which begins at noon tomorrow.

British Rail yesterday said it hoped to operate more than one in three trains during the stoppage - the eighth successive improvement in services during strikes.

Tomorrow, long-haul services will be hit first and they will take the longest time to recover on Thursday. Shorter routes will stop from around lunchtime tomorrow and will begin to get back to normal at the same time on Thursday.

As Mr Knapp spends several days at the four-yearly international union conference, his chief negotiator, Vernon Hince, will have to contend with a campaign by management to lure RMT members across picket lines.

The company admitted issuing an informal offer of up to pounds 800 in Railtrack's south-west zone to get signal staff to break strikes, but the union insists that similar proposals have been made to their members in the East Anglia and north- west regions. Railtrack denied this, but admitted attempting to find out what would induce workers to return.

Union officials argued that it was 'wishful thinking' by management that half of the 260 signal workers in the south-west would cross picket lines tomorrow. The 'overwhelming majority' of signal workers still supported the strike, the union said.

Derek Evans, chief conciliation officer at Acas, yesterday led fresh attempts to seek a compromise, first at the RMT offices and later at the headquarters of Railtrack.

The executive of the union is due within the next few days to fix a time for the 48-hour strike scheduled for next week. Leaders of the RMT are privately confident that their 500 members among signal box supervisors, who have been helping Railtrack to provide a service on strike days, will vote for disruption.

The result of the supervisors' ballot is due on Thursday. Given the statutory seven days' notice of industrial action, the union may delay its stoppage until late next week so that both sets of employees can walk out together.