Employment

'The planet is burning. We need rail investment': Labour's Sam Tarry on joining train strikes picket

For the fourth day this summer railway workers are on strike, but this time climate change is at the forefront of supporters' minds.

Labour's shadow transport minister Sam Tarry with general secretary of the TSSA union Manuel Cortes. Image: Sian Jones / TSSA

Thousands of railway workers are again on strike over low pay and cuts to Britain’s rail network. But this time there’s a renewed focus on the climate crisis after Britain last week recorded its hottest ever temperature.

Over 40,000 workers across Network Rail and 14 train operating companies are taking part in the strike, organised by unions the RMT and the TSSA, leaving millions facing disrupted services across the railways. 

The RMT is fighting for a 7 per cent pay rise for railway workers, in the face of soaring inflation reaching 9.4 per cent, and claims that Network Rail is threatening to impose compulsory redundancies and “unsafe” cuts to maintenance works.

“You’ve got to make the connection between the climate crisis, the planet burning, and investing into our public transport network,” shadow transport minister Sam Tarry told The Big Issue outside London’s Euston station.

Tarry had joined striking workers in defiance of Labour leader Keir Starmer, who said frontbenchers should stay away from picket lines.

“The Labour Party in opposition needs to be the Labour Party in power,” Starmer said on Tuesday. “And a government doesn’t go on picket lines.”

Tarry, MP for Ilford South, says he was there to show his commitment to investing in the railways to benefit workers and tackle climate change.

“We’ve got forest fires across Europe, my neighbouring constituency where Jon Cruddas is the MP – Wennington – houses burnt to the ground,” he said, calling for greater investment in the railways.

Six family homes were burnt to the ground in Wennington, north-east London, during the heatwave which saw more than 40 homes across the UK destroyed by fires. 

Tarry confirmed that he hadn’t yet heard from Starmer, adding: “He never should have said to people don’t go on the picket lines in the first place.”

RMT leader Mick Lynch told The Big Issue at the picket line: “Even the travelling public, rail users are behind what we’re doing. They support the changes we’re looking for, and they just support the campaign that we’re running in defence of our jobs and our pay and our conditions.”

Speaking on July 19 when temperatures hit 40C, Lynch said: “With the hottest day in Britain’s history causing havoc on our railways, it is more important than ever that the government reverses its £2bn cut from the industry.

“Climate change is one of the most significant challenges faced by humanity and the railways is part of the sustainable green future people need.

“The government is committing industrial and environmental vandalism by making these cuts. At the same time, it is allowing record profiteering from the private sector who are bleeding hundreds of millions from our railways every year.”

Standing with the strikers on the picket line, Londoner Carrie de Carteret told The Big Issue “I think it’s more important than ever that we support public transport, at a time when the planet is burning, London’s burning.”

The retired IT worker has been a member of the Labour party for half a century, having joined at 15, and believes “it’s very important that ordinary Labour party members are seen on picket lines”.

Asked what she thought of Labour leader Keir Starmer’s stance that government minister’s shouldn’t be on picket lines she said: “I understand why he feels he has to say that, because the press take every opportunity to make the Labour party look unelectable, but it makes me very sad and that’s why I feel that those of us who can come out to support them should.”

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