A train drivers’ strike was “solidly backed” on Saturday amid another clash between unions and the government over the bitter dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.
Passengers suffered another day of travel woes as thousands of Aslef members at seven train companies held a 24-hour strike.
The union said it had received an offer from Transport for Wales for a 6.6 percent pay increase, which it will present to its members.
Picket lines were set up outside train stations and Aslef said strikers were getting public support.
General Secretary Mick Whelan clashed with Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps, accusing him of lying.
He told the PA news agency: “Today’s strike was solid. That shows the solidarity of our members and their determination not to be rushed by Grant Shapps, the Department of Transport and the train companies.
“Having kept Britain moving through the pandemic, they expect our members, who have not had a pay rise since 2019, to continue working effectively for a pay cut.
“All we ask is an increase in line with the rise in the cost of living – rising inflation is not the fault of working people in this country; it is the fault of this government and its inept handling of the British economy.
“Shaps has the key to this, but as it should be, he’s fizzing and diving and diving, wanting to blame everyone – yes, everyone – for the trouble he’s caused.
“He could solve this in the blink of an eye by bringing the train companies to the table with a sensible offer and negotiating with us.”
Former shadow Labor minister Sam Tarry, who was fired after giving broadcast interviews from a picket line last week, said he “absolutely” still thinks Sir Keir Starmer is the best person to become prime minister.
The former shadow transport minister joined another picket line at London’s Paddington station on Saturday and said it was “very important” for Labor MPs to show their solidarity with striking workers.
He said: “We should never have been in a situation where we issued an edict not to join a picket line. This is the Labor Party – the clue is in the name. We are the party created by the unions.”
He added that the link between the union movement and the Labor Party was “indivisible” and “part of the same fabric”.
Grant Shapps told The times: “The ‘Two Micks’ – Lynch from the RMT and Whelan from Aslef – are making fun of the taxpayer, but not in the way they’re meant to.
“RMT is blocking reforms and Aslef is dragging his feet in negotiations as both are calling for more strikes. Enough.”
In response, Mr Whelan told Times Radio: “I say Mr Shapps is lying very simply, very clearly.
“We are not dragging our feet in the negotiations. We negotiate with 14 private companies. We do not work for the government or the Ministry of Transport.
“I would like Mr Shapps to get us out of this catch-22 situation which he misrepresents at every opportunity.”
The strike affected Arriva Rail London, Greater Anglia, Great Western, Hull Trains, LNER, Southeastern and West Midlands Trains.
A DfT spokesperson said: “It is extremely misleading to suggest that the transport secretary should be involved in these negotiations.
“His role is to protect the treasury and give the hard-working people of this country value for money. As such, he must set the limits of taxpayer support and ultimately sign every deal — not to be involved in negotiating an agreement — and his contracts with operators allow him to do just that.
“The union knows very well that negotiations on wages and work practices don’t happen with the government – they happen with the employers of the people they represent. We once again urge union representatives to return to the negotiating table.”
Football fans traveling to the opening Saturday of the English leagues and those heading to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham were hit by the disruption.
The strike action will be stepped up next month with a series of strikes by Aslef, the RMT and the Transport Salried Staffs’ Association.
Meanwhile, Hitachi rail workers will go on strike for three days in a row starting Sunday for pay and working conditions.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) whose duties include maintenance are in dispute over pay and issues such as breaks, leave entitlements and length of service.