The largest rail strikes to hit Britain in more than 30 years entered a second day on Thursday with a pugnacious union boss putting forward the case for his members in an unceasing round of media interviews from the picket lines.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ (RMT) Union, is leading staff who have staged walkouts and joined picketing outside stations over a bitter dispute with the Conservative-led government over pay, conditions and jobs.
He blamed the government for “wrecking” negotiations after the two sides failed to make a breakthrough.
Who is Mick Lynch?
The trade unionist, 60, who has been thrust into the media spotlight, was born and raised in London.
Having left school at 16 he trained and qualified as an electrician before moving into construction and worked for a period at Eurostar. He became active in RMT politics during the early 1990s and won compensation for an illegal blacklisting he had suffered early in his career due to union membership.
He has taken a hard-line approach against the government over the row and has often appeared combative in interviews.
Critics accuse him of holding the public to ransom, while supporters say he is a national treasure.
Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis has called on Mr Lynch to apologise to health workers and teachers unable to use their usual mode of transport to get to work.
He accused Mr Lynch of “undermining” the nationwide rail network, which is still recovering from the Covid-19 lockdowns, and said the strikes would deter passengers from using trains.
“The pay rise that Mick wants will therefore just add more costs to rail network, making it more unaffordable for more working people,” Mr Gullis, a back bench MP, told the BBC's Politics Live programme.
“He should be apologising to the doctors and nurses who can’t get to hospital, the patients who can’t get their operations, the kids who miss out on their education today.”
Mr Lynch said he did not want the disruption of strikes to continue and would much rather a “settlement to the dispute”.
With no end to the battle in sight, and a warning from Mr Lynch that the disruption could drag on until 2023, a summer of discontent could be brewing for travellers across the UK.
The government plans to introduce new legislation which would allow agency workers to be brought in to keep trains running if employees strike.
Speaking from the picket line outside Euston Station in London on Tuesday, Mr Lynch said RMT workers would stop agency staff from reaching stations if that plan was put into action.
“We will try to stop agency workers crossing the picket line by asking them not to go to work,” he told Sky News.
What is the RMT?
More than 83,000 workers from several sectors of the transport industry are signed-up members of the union.
Those employed in mainline and underground railways, shipping, buses and road freight are all eligible to register.
This week’s rail strikes — on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday — involve more than 40,000 signallers, maintenance and train staff working for Network Rail, the group responsible for rail infrastructure, including level crossings, stations and tracks.
Staff from 13 train operators are also taking part in the strikes on all three days. On Tuesday, Transport for London held a walkout of staff to coincide with the first day of strike action.
The latest round of talks between the government and the RMT failed on Wednesday, with Mr Lynch accusing the transport secretary of ruining the discussions.
“Grant Shapps has wrecked these negotiations by not allowing Network Rail to withdraw their letter threatening redundancy for 2,900 of our members,” he said.
“Until the government unshackles Network Rail and the train operating companies, it is not going to be possible for a negotiated settlement to be agreed.
“We will continue with our industrial campaign until we get a negotiated settlement that delivers job security and a pay rise for our members that deals with the escalating cost-of-living crisis.”