July 3, 2022

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Thousands walk out in Britain’s biggest rail strike in 30 years as Johnson vows to stay firm

Thousands walk out in Britain's biggest rail strike in 30 years as Johnson vows to stay firm
  • More than 40,000 railway workers have left
  • The government is under pressure due to the cost of living crisis
  • Trade unions say strike could start ‘summer of discontent’

LONDON (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of workers walked out on the first day of Britain’s biggest rail strike in 30 years on Tuesday, as commuters faced further chaos as unions and the government vowed to stick to their guns respectively. Pay.

Some of the more than 40,000 railway workers scheduled to strike on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays gathered at picket lines from dawn, causing major disruptions across the network and leaving 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 Britons weather the most severe economic hit in decades, said the strike would hurt businesses still recovering from COVID.

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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 for an industrial strike as inflation soars at 10%. Read more

“The British worker needs a pay rise,” Mick Lynch, general secretary of rail, marine and transport workers, told Sky News. “They need job security and decent conditions.”

During the morning rush hour, the roads were more crowded than usual with cars, bikes and pedestrians. Hospital staff said some colleagues slept through the night at work to maintain care.

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Johnson told his Cabinet that the strikes were “wrong and unnecessary” and said his message to the country was that they needed to be prepared to “stay the course” because improving the way rail is run is in the public’s interest.

A poll conducted by pollsters YouGov earlier this month found that public opinion 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.

bloating fever

Inflation has risen across Europe on the back of soaring energy costs and Britain is not alone in the face of strikes.

Cost-of-living measures in Belgium caused turmoil at Brussels airport on Monday, while Germany’s most powerful union pushed for big wage increases, and in France President Emmanuel Macron faces turmoil over pension reforms.

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 supports millions of the poorest families, but warns that wage increases above inflation will damage economic fundamentals and prolong the problem.

Britain’s railways have been effectively nationalized under the pandemic, with train operators paying flat fees to run services, while rail and infrastructure are run by state-owned Network Rail.

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RMT wants its members to receive a pay raise of at least 7%, but said Network Rail has offered 2%, with another 1% tied to industry reforms it opposes. The government has been criticized for not participating in the talks. Ministers say unions should dissolve it directly with employers.

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 unions has almost halved since the 1970s, and strikes have been less common, in part due to changes made by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to make calling a strike more difficult.

The government says it will now quickly change the law to force train operators to provide minimal service on strike days, and to allow employers to bring in temporary employees.

The strikes come as travelers at British airports suffer chaotic delays and last-minute cancellations due to a shortage of staff, while the health services teeter under the pressure of long waiting lists that have built up during the pandemic.

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Additional reporting by Paul Sandell; Editing by Edmund Blair, Kate Holton and Raisa Kasulowski

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.