Biggest rail strike in 30 years brings UK to a standstill


  • More than 40,000 railway workers will strike
  • The government is under pressure due to the cost of living crisis
  • Trade unions say strike could start ‘summer of discontent’

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s biggest rail strike in 30 years kicked off on Tuesday, with tens of thousands of workers walking out over a dispute over salaries and jobs that could pave the way for a large-scale industrial strike across the economy in the coming months.

Some of the more than 40,000 railway workers scheduled to strike on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays gathered at picket lines from dawn, leaving the network at a standstill and major stations deserted. The London Underground was also mostly closed due to a separate strike.

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

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Trade unions said the rail strikes could be the start of a “summer of discontent” as teachers, paramedics, waste disposal workers and even lawyers are heading toward an industrial strike as soaring food and fuel prices pushed inflation nearly 10%. Read more

“The British worker needs a pay rise,” Mick Lynch, general secretary of rail, marine and transport workers (RMT) told Sky News.

“They need job security, decent conditions and a square deal in general, if we can get that we don’t have to disrupt the British economy that we have now that may develop over the summer.”

Johnson said unions were harming the people they claimed to be helping.

“By pressing ahead with these rail strikes, they are firing passengers who ultimately support the jobs of railroad workers, while also affecting businesses and communities across the country,” he will tell his cabinet on Tuesday, according to his office.

The government faced criticism from opposition lawmakers for its refusal to participate in the talks to settle the dispute. Ministers say it is up to unions to work directly with rail employers.

A YouGov poll conducted earlier this month found that public opinion on the strikes was divided, with about half of those questioned opposing the measure and just over a third saying they supported it.

Leo Rudolph, a 36-year-old lawyer who went to work, said he would become more resentful the longer the dispute dragged on.

“This wouldn’t be an isolated event, would it?” He told Reuters. “I will definitely be more frustrated every time this happens.”

Destructive blowing

Britain’s economy initially rebounded strongly from the COVID-19 pandemic, but a combination of labor shortages, supply chain disruptions, inflation and trade problems after Brexit, led to warnings of a recession.

The government says it is providing extra support to millions of poorer families, but says wage increases above inflation will hurt the fundamentals of the economy.

“Continuously high levels of inflation will have a much greater impact on people’s pay packages in the long run, destroying savings and prolonging our hardships for much longer,” Johnson said.

The outbreak of industrial strikes has drawn comparisons with the 1970s, when Britain faced widespread labor strikes including the “Winter of Discontent” in 1978 and 1979. Read more

The number of British workers who are members of trade unions has almost halved since the 1970s, and withdrawals have been less common, in part due to changes made by former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to restrict trade union powers and make it more difficult to call a strike. .

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the government will change the law as soon as possible to force train operators to provide minimum service on strike days, and to allow other workers to temporarily replace outgoing employees.

“We will take steps to make sure this kind of thing is less harmful in the future,” he told Sky News.

The strikes come as travelers at British 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 delays in procedures.

The rail strike means that only about half of Britain’s rail network will be open on strike days with very limited service operating on those lines and constant disruption in the days between strikes.

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Editing by Edmund Blair, Kate Holton and Raisa Kasulowski

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.