LONDON: British railway workers began the biggest network strike in more than three decades on Tuesday (June 21) as a cost of living crisis caused by soaring inflation risks prompting wider industrial action .
Last-minute talks to avert the strike broke down on Monday, meaning more than 50,000 members of the RMT rail union will walk out for three days this week.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch has described as “unacceptable” offers of below-inflation pay rises from overhead train operators and the London Underground which operates the underground in the capital.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the government was doing everything it could to minimize the “massive disruption” expected.
But he told parliament on Monday: ‘It is estimated that around 20% of planned services will operate, focusing on key workers, major population centers and critical freight routes.
The strikes – also on Thursday and Saturday – are likely to cause major disruption to major events, including the Glastonbury Music Festival.
Schools warn that thousands of teenagers taking national exams will also be affected.
The strikes are the biggest dispute on the UK rail network since 1989, according to the RMT.
Rail operators, however, warned of disruption throughout the week, with lines not affected by the strike expected to further reduce services.
Members of the London Underground RMT are additionally organizing a 24-hour underground stop on Tuesday.
The union argues the strikes are necessary because wages have not kept pace with inflation in the UK, which has hit a 40-year high and is on track to continue rising.
TEACHERS, LAWYERS, NHS
Countries around the world have been plagued by high inflation for decades as the war in Ukraine and the easing of COVID-19 restrictions fuel rising energy and food prices.
Unions are also warning that rail jobs are at risk as passenger traffic has yet to fully recover after lockdowns linked to the coronavirus pandemic were lifted.
The strikes are adding to travel chaos after airlines were forced to cut flights due to understaffing, causing long delays and frustration for passengers.
Thousands of workers have been laid off in the aviation industry during the pandemic, but the sector is now struggling to recruit workers as travel demand rebounds after lockdowns were lifted.
Other sectors of the public sector are expected to organize strikes in the meantime.
The Criminal Bar Association, which represents senior lawyers in England and Wales, has voted to go on strike from the next consecutive week over legal aid funding.
Justice Minister James Cartlidge called the walkout “disappointing” given that the justice system is already struggling with large backlogs of cases caused by the pandemic.
Four weeks of action begin on Monday and Tuesday, increasing by one day each week until a five-day strike begins July 18.
Teaching staff and workers at the state-run National Health Service are also reportedly considering a strike.
And several other transport unions are voting with their members on possible shutdowns that may occur in the coming weeks.