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The largest railway strike in 30 years brings Britain to a standstill

  • More than 40,000 railway workers will go on strike
  • The government under pressure over the cost of living crisis
  • Trade unions say strike could start “summer of discontent”

LONDON, June 21 (Reuters) – Britain’s biggest 30-year railway strike began on Tuesday when tens of thousands of workers went into contention over wages and jobs that could pave the way for widespread fighting across the economy in the coming months.

Some of the more than 40,000 railway workers who will strike on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday gathered at strike lines from dawn, leaving the network standing still and large 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 crisis in decades, said the labor struggle would hurt businesses as they continue to recover from the pandemic.

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Trade unions have said the strike could mark the start of a “summer of discontent” with teachers, medics, garbage workers and even lawyers moving against labor as rising food and fuel prices push inflation towards 10%. read more

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

“They need job security, decent conditions and a square deal in general. If we can do that, we do not need to have the turmoil in the British economy that we have now and that could develop over the summer.”

Johnson said the unions hurt the people they claimed to help.

“By continuing with these rail strikes, they are driving away commuters who ultimately support the jobs of railroad workers, while also affecting businesses and communities across the country,” he will tell his government on Tuesday, according to his office.

The government has faced criticism from opposition lawmakers for refusing to get involved in the talks to resolve the dispute. The ministers say that it is a matter for the unions to cooperate directly with the employers on the railway.

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

Leo Rudolph, a 36-year-old lawyer who went to work, said he would be more dissatisfied the longer the dispute lasted.

“This is not going to be an isolated incident, is it?” he told Reuters. “I will definitely be more frustrated every time this happens.”


The UK economy did not recover until after the COVID-19 pandemic, but a combination of labor shortages, supply chain disruptions, inflation and post-Brexit trade problems has led to warnings of a recession.

The government says it provides extra support to millions of the poorest households, but says wage increases over inflation will hurt the fundamentals of the economy.

“Persistently higher levels of inflation will have a far greater impact on people’s wage packages in the long run, destroying savings and prolonging the difficulties we face longer,” Johnson said.

The outbreak of labor struggles has drawn comparison with the 1970s, when Britain faced extensive labor strikes including the “winter of discontent” 1978-79. read more

The number of British workers who are union members has roughly halved since the 1970s, with exits much less common, in part due to changes made by former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to limit union power and make it harder to call a strike.

Transport Minister Grant Shapps said the government would change the law as soon as possible to force train operators to provide a minimum service on strike days, and allow other workers to temporarily replace employees who have left.

“We are going to take steps to ensure that this type of thing is less harmful in the future,” he told Sky News.

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

The railway strike means that only half of the UK’s rail network will be open on strike days with very limited service running on these lines and continued disruption on the days between strike days.

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Edited by Edmund Blair, Kate Holton and Raissa Kasolowsky

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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