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UK rail strikes and energy walks add to week of economic turmoil

LONDON (AP) — Trains in Britain nearly ground to a halt Saturday as coordinated strikes by rail workers added to a week of turmoil caused by soaring energy prices and unfunded tax cuts that rattled financial markets.

Only around 11% of train services were expected to operate across the UK on Saturday, according to Network Rail. Unions said they were calling the latest in a series of one-day strikes to demand pay rises keep pace with inflation expected to peak at around 11% this month.

Consumers were also hit by a jump in energy bills on Saturday as the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine pushes gas and electricity prices higher. Household bills are expected to rise by around 20%, even after the government stepped in to cap prices.

Prime Minister Liz Truss, who has been in office for less than a month, cited the cost-of-living crisis as the reason she moved quickly to introduce a controversial economic stimulus program, which includes £45 billion ($48 billion) in unfunded tax cuts.

Concerns that the plans would push government debt to unsustainable levels saw the pound fall to a record low against the dollar this week and force the Bank of England to intervene in the bond market.

“We need to get things done in this country faster,”[ads1]; Truss said in an unapologetic column for The Sun newspaper published on Saturday. “So I’m going to do things differently. It involves difficult decisions and involves disturbances in the short term.”

Many workers are not convinced.

Four unions have called three 24-hour strikes over the next eight days, ensuring service disruption for much of the week.

The timing is particularly worrying for runners and fans trying to get to the capital for Sunday’s London Marathon, which is expected to attract 42,000 competitors.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union, said the strikes were designed to target the annual conference of Truss’s Conservative Party, which begins on Sunday in Birmingham, England.

“We don’t want to inconvenience the public and we’re really sorry it’s happening,” Lynch said. “But the government has brought this dispute forward. They are (putting) the challenges down to us, to cut our jobs, to cut our pensions and to cut our wages against inflation.”

Lynch called on Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan to take “urgent steps to allow a negotiated settlement.” The union said the latest figures showed rail bosses are taking advantage of government tax cuts.

As a result of the strike, there will be no service between London and major cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle on Saturday. Continued disruption is also likely to affect service on Sunday morning.

Runners and spectators traveling to London for the marathon, which starts at 9.30am, have been warned they are likely to be frustrated by the strike.

“It is particularly disappointing that this weekend’s strike will disrupt the plans of thousands of runners who have been training for months to take part in the iconic London Marathon,” said Daniel Mann, director of industrial operations at Rail Delivery Group. “It will also penalize the many charities, large and small, who rely on sponsorship money raised by such events to support the most vulnerable in our society.”

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