Rail strikes could last throughout the winter until the spring of 2023 unless the government agrees on a compromise, union chief Mick Lynch has warned.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union leader said the new transport secretary Mark Harper could end the dispute over pay, jobs and conditions “very quickly”.
But Mr Lynch said “people are getting stronger behind us”, despite several days of industrial action and disruption looming from Saturday.
Asked if the train strikes could continue into spring, the RMT general secretary told the Mirror: “It could I don’t want that, it’s not my plan. We don’t have a plan for an end date or ‘it’s got to continue’.”
Mr Lynch added: “We’re not in this for the sake of it. We want the companies to make us proposals that will settle the dispute.”
Members of the RMT, Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) and Unite unions are taking industrial action from Saturday – with the growing prospect of more strikes in the run-up to Christmas.
Strikes will be held on 5 November, 7 November and 9 November, crippling services on those days and causing knock-on delays in between the walkouts.
Network Rail urged passengers to only travel if absolutely necessary, warning that on strike days only one in five trains will run, and only between 7.30am and 6.30pm.
Mr Harper, appointed transport secretary by Rishi Sunak, has said that he would be “very happy” to meet trade union leaders amid ongoing rail strikes.
Mr Lynch, along with other union leaders, had met Anne-Marie Trevelyan during her brief tenure in the role. However, her predecessor, Grant Shapps, sparked union anger earlier in the year when he refused to get involved in negotiations.
Mr Harper told LBC: “But I think it’s helpful for ministers to meet trade union leaders and to listen to their concerns. I’m very happy to do that and my department will be reaching out to those trade union leaders in due course.”
Mr Lynch responded: “The secretary of State has got to decide what his stance is. If he unlocks some funding and unlocks some new positions of principle, then there could be a settlement to this dispute very quickly.”
The left-wing union leader said that if could send any politician to join Matt Hancock in the I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here he would pick home secretary Suella Braverman.
“Suella Braverman could try landing on a foreign shore and she how she gets on,” he said, appearing at a TUC-led rally for a general election in the wake of political and economic turmoil.
On Mr Hancock’s appearance on the ITV reality show, he added: “I think it’s the most outrageous thing – this man is paid to be in there, working.
Mr Lynch: “And Boris Johnson, by the way, took a three-week holiday to the Caribbean and came back when he wanted. Nobody’s taken the whip off him.”