Thousands of rail workers in Britain began a new round of strikes on Thursday, paralyzing rail service across the country in an ongoing dispute over pay and working conditions exacerbated by a deepening cost-of-living crisis .
Only around one in five trains ran across the UK as a result of the walkout by unions, who have already staged several strikes in recent months. A strike planned for Friday is expected to affect the London Underground network as well as bus services in the capital, while another walkout on Saturday is expected to disrupt domestic travel again.
Mick Lynch, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, alleged that an “anti-union agenda” by the UK Conservative government was prolonging the industrial dispute.
He said rail workers, like other public sector employees in the UK, are struggling to cope with rising food and fuel prices. The country’s inflation rate jumped to a new 40-year high of 10.1 percent in July, official figures showed on Wednesday, higher than analysts’ central forecast of 9.8 percent.
“People in this country are fed up with low wages. Many millions of people have not had a proper pay deal for decades,” Lynch told the picket line at London’s Euston train station on Thursday. “So public sector workers in health, education, transport, all kinds of services, have been subjected to wage cuts and rampant inflation.” The government has argued it had to use public funding to protect rail workers’ jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and officials want the train system to be financially sustainable for the future. They say a fair pay offer was presented to the railway workers.
A Department for Transport spokesman said union leaders were “choosing to inflict misery and disrupt the daily lives of millions” for the sixth time since June instead of working towards a deal.