Biggest rail strike in 30 years brings UK to a standstill

  • More than 40,000 railway workers on strike
  • Government under pressure in the face of the cost of living crisis
  • Unions say strike could trigger ‘summer of discontent’

LONDON, June 21 (Reuters) – Britain’s biggest railway strike in 30 years began on Tuesday as tens of thousands of workers walked out in a pay and jobs dispute that could pave the way for a widespread industrial action across the economy in the coming months.

Some of the more than 40,000 railway workers who were due to strike on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday gathered in picket lines at dawn, leaving the network at a standstill and the main stations deserted. The London Underground was also largely closed due to a separate strike.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, under pressure to do more to help British households facing the toughest economic hit in decades, said industrial action would hurt businesses as they continue to recover from the pandemic.

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Unions have said the rail strikes could mark the start of a ‘summer of discontent’ with teachers, doctors, garbage collectors and even lawyers heading for industrial action as food prices soar and fuel pushes inflation towards 10%. Read more

“The British worker needs a pay rise,” Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), told Sky News.

“They need job security, decent terms and a square deal in general, if we can get that we won’t have to go through the disruption to the UK economy that we have now and which could develop over the summer.”

Johnson said unions hurt the people they claim to help.

“By continuing these strikes from the railroads, they are driving away commuters who ultimately support the jobs of railroad workers, while impacting businesses and communities across the country,” he said. Tuesday at his office, according to his office.

The government has come under fire from opposition lawmakers for refusing to get involved in talks to settle the dispute. Ministers say it is up to unions to work directly with rail employers.

A survey by YouGov pollsters earlier this month found public opinion on the strikes was divided, with around half of those polled opposed to the action and just over a third saying they supported her.

Leo Rudolph, a 36-year-old lawyer who walked to work, said he would grow more disgruntled the longer the dispute lasted.

“This isn’t going to be an isolated event, is it?” he told Reuters. “I will definitely get more and more frustrated every time this happens.”

DESTRUCTIVE INFLATION

The UK economy initially rebounded strongly from the COVID-19 pandemic, but a combination of labor shortages, supply chain disruptions, inflation and post-Brexit trade issues have sparked recession warnings.

The government says it is providing additional support to millions of the poorest households, but says wage increases above inflation would hurt the fundamentals of the economy.

“Higher and sustained levels of inflation would have a much bigger impact on people’s wages in the long run, destroying savings and prolonging the difficulties we face for longer,” Johnson said.

The outbreak of industrial action drew comparison to the 1970s, when Britain faced widespread strikes, including the ‘winter of discontent’ of 1978-79. Read more

The number of unionized British workers has roughly halved since the 1970s, with walkouts much less frequent, in part due to changes made by former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to restrict the powers of unions and make it more difficult to triggering of a strike. .

Transport Minister Grant Shapps said the government would change the law as soon as possible to require train operators to provide a minimum service on strike days and allow other workers to temporarily replace staff who walked out.

“We’re going to take steps to make sure this sort of thing is less damaging in the future,” he told Sky News.

The strikes come as travelers at UK airports suffer chaotic delays and last-minute cancellations due to staff shortages, while many Britons have to wait months for new passports to arrive due to processing delays.

The rail strike means that only around half of the UK rail network will be open on strike days with very limited service on those lines and continued disruption on the days between strike days.

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Editing by Edmund Blair, Kate Holton and Raissa Kasolowsky

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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