March 19, 2010 / 1:02 PM / 9 years ago

British rail workers vote to strike as unrest grows

LONDON, March 19 (Reuters) - Britain’s rail signal workers have voted to strike in a row over jobs and changes to working practices, their union said on Friday, raising the threat of a first national rail strike in 16 years.

Any action would disrupt hundreds of thousands of passengers and be a headache for Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who already faces a walkout by British Airways BAY.L staff with an election only weeks away. [ID:nLDE62I0UX]

The RMT rail union, which has not announced any strike dates, said 54 percent of its members backed the walkout.

“Nobody should be under any illusions about just how determined RMT members are to win our fight against Network Rail’s cuts programme,” said RMT General Secretary Bob Crow.

Maintenance workers who belong to the union have already voted to take action.

Rail operators will work with Network Rail to find out how badly any strike would disrupt services, said Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies.

Network Rail Chief executive Iain Coucher accused the RMT this week of trying to “hold Britain’s railway to ransom and show off before an election”.

The opposition Conservatives have sought to make political capital out of the industrial unrest, calling Brown’s response “feeble” and accusing his Labour Party of being in the pocket of the unions.

“The timing of RMT’s reckless and damaging strike — to coincide with an election campaign — is yet more proof that the unions are trying to capitalise on Gordon Brown’s weak government,” said Conservative transport spokeswoman Theresa Villiers. (Editing by Louise Ireland)

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