Largest railway strike in 30 years brings UK to a standstill

  • More than 40,000 railway workers go on strike
  • Government under pressure due to cost of living crisis
  • Unions say strike could start ‘summer of discontent’

LONDON, June 21 (Reuters) – Britain’s largest railway strike in 30 years began on Tuesday, as tens of thousands of staff walked out in a wage and job dispute that could pave the way for widespread industrial action in the economy in the coming months .

Some of the more than 40,000 railway workers going on strike Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday gathered at picket lines from dawn, shutting down the network and leaving major stations. The London Underground was also largely closed due to a separate strike.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was pressured to do more to help British households who suffered the worst economic blow in decades, said the union move would hurt businesses as they continue to recover from the pandemic.

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Unions have said the railway strikes could mark the beginning of a “summer of discontent” with teachers, medics, waste disposal workers and even lawyers heading for union action as rising food and fuel prices push inflation to 10%. read more

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

“They need job security, decent terms and a deal in general, if we can get that we don’t have to have the disruption to the UK economy that we have now which could develop over the summer.”

Johnson said the unions harm the people they claim they help.

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

The government has been criticized by opposition lawmakers for refusing to participate in talks to resolve the dispute. Ministers say it is a matter for unions to work directly with railway employers.

A survey by pollsters YouGov earlier this month found that public opinion on the strikes was divided: about half of those polled opposed the action and just over a third said they supported the action.

Leo Rudolph, a 36-year-old attorney who walked to work, said he would become more dissatisfied the longer the dispute went on.

“This won’t be an isolated event, will it?” he told Reuters. “Every time this happens, I’m definitely going to get more frustrated.”


The UK economy initially recovered strongly from the COVID-19 pandemic, but a combination of labor shortages, supply chain disruption, inflation and post-Brexit trade difficulties has sparked warnings of a recession.

The government says it will provide additional support to millions of the poorest households, but says wage increases above inflation would damage the fundamentals of the economy.

“Continued higher levels of inflation would have a much greater impact on people’s wages in the long run, wiping out the savings and prolonging the problems we face,” Johnson said.

The outbreak of industrial action is a comparison to the 1970s, when Britain faced widespread labor strikes, including the ‘winter of discontent’ of 1978-79. read more

The number of British workers who join unions has roughly halved since the 1970s, with walk-outs becoming much less common, partly as a result of changes made by former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to limit union powers and make it more difficult to call a strike.

Transport Secretary 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 staff who have run away.

“We’re going to take steps to make sure things like this are less harmful in the future,” he told Sky News.

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

The rail strike means that only about half of the UK’s rail network will be open on strike days with very limited service on those lines and continued disruptions on the days between strike days.

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Editing by Edmund Blair, Kate Holton and Raissa Kasolowsky

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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