Thousands go on strike in Britain’s biggest railway strike in 30 years while Johnson promises to hold on

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

LONDON, June 21 (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of workers marched on the first day of Britain’s biggest 30-year railway strike on Tuesday with passengers facing further chaos as both unions and the government vowed to hold on to weapons in a row over pay.

Some of the more than 40,000 railway personnel who will strike on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, gathered at strike lines from dawn, which caused major disruptions throughout the network and left 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 Britons facing the toughest economic crisis in decades, said the strike would hurt companies still recovering from COVID.

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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 on their way to work as inflation pushes 10%. read more

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

In the morning rush hour, the roads were busier than normal with cars, bicycles and pedestrians. Hospital staff said some colleagues slept at work overnight to maintain care.

Johnson told his cabinet that the strikes were “wrong and unnecessary” and said his message to the country was that they must be ready to “stay the course” as improvements to the way railways are operated were in the public interest.

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


Inflation has risen across Europe on the back of a sharp rise in energy costs, and Britain is not alone in facing strikes.

Action on the cost of living in Belgium caused disruption at Brussels airport on Monday, while Germany’s most powerful union is pushing for excessive wage increases and in France, President Emmanuel Macron is facing unrest over pension reforms.

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 supports millions of the poorest households, but warns that wage increases over inflation will damage the fundamentals of the economy and prolong the problem.

Britain’s railways were effectively nationalized in the pandemic, with train operators paying a fixed fee to operate services, while the tracks and infrastructure are managed by state-owned Network Rail.

RMT wants members to receive a wage increase of at least 7%, but it has said that Network Rail offered 2%, with a further 1% linked to industrial reforms they oppose. The government has been criticized for not being involved in the talks. Ministers say unions need to address this directly with employers.

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 withdrawals much less common, in part due to changes made by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to make it harder to call a strike.

The government says it will now change the law quickly to force train operators to provide a minimum service on strike days, and allow employers to hire temporary workers.

The strikes come as passengers at British airports experience chaotic delays and cancellations at the last minute due to staff shortages, while the health service vibrates under the pressure of long waiting lists built up during the pandemic.

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Additional reporting by Paul Sandle, edited by Edmund Blair, Kate Holton and Raissa Kasolowsky

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