The plans have rattled Whitehall and sparked fears of a catastrophic impact on fragile supply chains. Britain’s biggest businesses last week warned that a shutdown on railways could lead to empty supermarket shelves, dry petrol pumps and power blackouts that would bring the economy to a standstill.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, desperate to avoid a summer of chaos, has argued that the strikes will sit badly with taxpayers who he says forked out around £ 600 a family to keep the railway running during the pandemic. Yet Lynch is unphased by the deluge of criticism. There will be no backing down.
“The taxpayers haven’t bailed out the railways – the railways had to run during Covid, because they were an essential, necessary service. It’s not a bailout, it’s not a failing industry, ”Lynch says, admitting that he is yet to lock horns with Shapps in person.
“What has failed is privatisation. What’s being bailed out is Grant Shapps’ failed private, hybrid model – what he should do is take the logical step of taking the whole thing into public ownership so we can have a railway on behalf of the people. “
Speaking at the RMT’s base at London’s Euston, Lynch emphasizes how long the rail unions have been lobbying for the public ownership of Britain’s trains and rails. “Since these fellas,” he says, pointing to a wall of black and white portraits of his predecessors who are, indeed, all fellas. “It’s been a disaster since privatization.”
Yet since the 1990s passenger numbers have risen, hitting a record 1.8bn journeys the year before the pandemic. Lynch is dismissive. “[Ministers] will say there’s been a growth in passengers, but we would have got that anyway. “
The Government has tightened its grip on the railways since the pandemic. Officials are preparing to bring track and trains under a new public body – Great British Railways – which will have closer oversight of the private companies that operate the railway.
Despite its desire for state control, the RMT has repeatedly attacked the plans, which will mean the Government collects fares and pays train operators a fee.
With more changes ahead as passenger numbers stay below pre-pandemic levels and the industry scrambles to find around £ 3bn in annual savings, Lynch is ready for battle.
Ministers last weekend warned that the rail industry is “merely on life support” and cuts are required, but Lynch is unmoved. In his eyes di lui no decent trade union would accept thousands of job losses, multiple year pay freezes and “severe attacks” on working conditions.
But his walkouts will infuriate cash-strapped rail passengers given that Britain is in the grip of a severe cost of living crisis and the transport industry is hardly the worst off. Tube drivers can take home £ 70,000- £ 80,000 when overtime and benefits are taken into account – much more than the national average wage of £ 31,772.
Lynch, whose annual salary stands at £ 84,174, bats away that argument by stating that his union is “not responsible for low pay of other workers outside its membership” and that disgruntled workers in other industries should just fight for higher pay and better conditions too .
He says his sector is also feeling the pain of higher bills as most do not earn large wages, with “many thousands” earning between £ 20,000 and £ 30,000 a year. There is also no need for rail fares to go up if his members get better pay, he adds.
But officials fear strikes could backfire on the rail industry just as it is starting to recover from the pandemic and passengers return.
A summer of rail chaos could be the final death knell for some office commutes, triggering a further plunge in footfall.
Lynch hopes the strikes won’t be the last straw for people going back in, but says his members are simply “not prepared to pay the price” for the sake of the government and employers.