Saturday, October 1, 2022

UK rail workers strike again as high inflation intensifies crisis

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LONDON: Railway staff in Britain on Thursday staged the latest in a series of strikes, once again disrupting commuters and leisure travellers, as decades-high inflation hits salaries and prompts walkouts across various industries.

The latest action by rail workers, which will be repeated on Saturday, is part of a summer of strike action by the sector and others at a scale not seen since the 1980s under former prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

The dispute over pay rises and working conditions has shown little sign of resolution and is likely to be exacerbated by news this week that UK inflation topped 10 percent in July for the first time since 1982.

The global impact of the war in Ukraine on energy and food prices, and, to a lesser extent, post-Brexit trade frictions are blamed for the surging cost-of-living crisis in Britain.

Tens of thousands of railway staff are set to walk out over the two days, leaving a skeleton train service and stranding holidaymakers and commuters, even if home-working continues for many office staff after Covid restrictions were lifted.

Meanwhile, London transport workers serving the underground “Tube” and bus network will walk out on Friday, creating three days of travel misery in southeast England.

“It’s extremely unreliable these days, so I’m finding I’m having to drive, park and pay a lot more,” recruitment consultant Greg Ellwood, 26, told AFP at an unusually quiet Euston station in London.

“We’re all just trying to make a living and get by… So I’ve got all the sympathy in the world for them,” he added, referring to the strikers.

Among the sectors also calling strikes are dockers at Felixstowe, Britain’s largest freight port situated in eastern England, who will start an eight-day stoppage Sunday.

The waves of industrial action could continue into the autumn, since the Bank of England forecasts inflation will top 13 percent later this year, tipping the economy into a deep and long-lasting recession.

“We will continue to do whatever is necessary to defend jobs, pay and conditions during this cost-of-living crisis,” Sharon Graham, head of major British union Unite, said this week.

“This record fall in real wages demonstrates the vital need for unions like Unite to defend the value of workers’ pay,” Graham said.

Inflation has soared worldwide this year also on surging energy prices, fuelled by the  Ukraine war.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), urged the UK government to get involved in talks over pay, jobs and conditions.

“Instead of waging an ideological war against rail workers, millions of voters would rather that the Government allow for a fair negotiated settlement,” he said at a picket line at Euston.

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