Biggest rail strike in 30 years grounds UK commuters news

More than 40,000 workers are on strike over the cost of living crisis, forcing commuters to work from home or find other routes.

Tens of thousands of UK rail workers have embarked on the network’s biggest strike in more than 30 years, leaving commuters facing chaos.

About 40,000 cleaners, signallers, maintenance workers and station workers staged a 24-hour strike on Tuesday, with two more planned for Thursday and Saturday.

Controversy has centred on pay, working conditions and job security as British Rail struggles to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

There were nearly 1 billion train journeys in the UK in the year to March. But that is far below pre-COVID-19 levels, and train companies that have maintained operations with government support for the past two years are looking to cut costs and staffing.

Last-minute talks on Monday failed to yield a breakthrough. The Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) said it would not accept a 3 per cent pay rise proposed by rail companies, which is well below the current 9 per cent inflation rate.

Unions have accused the Conservative government of refusing to give rail companies enough flexibility to offer big pay rises.

The government said it would not be involved in the negotiations, but warned that a big pay rise would trigger a wage price spiral that would push up inflation.

Passengers queue outside Waterloo station for buses on first day of London rail strike [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

The main station was largely empty on Tuesday morning, with only about 20% of passenger trains scheduled to run, forcing people to either work from home or find other routes into offices.

Transport Minister Grant Shapps said he “regrets” the strike, which he said evoked “the bad old days of the 1970s”.

“The people who are injured are those who physically need to go to work, maybe lower wages, maybe hospital cleaners,” he told Sky News broadcaster. “I absolutely condemn what they did today, there is no excuse for people to strike.”

But the RMT’s secretary general, Mick Lynch, described as “unacceptable” proposals for below-inflation pay rises from ground train operators and the London Underground, which operates the metro in the capital.

The strike – also on Thursday and Saturday – has the potential to cause major disruptions to major events including the Glastonbury festival.

Schools have warned that thousands of teenagers taking national exams will also be affected.

According to the RMT, the strike is the biggest controversy on the UK rail network since 1989.

Pamphlets and newspapers distributed on picket lines outside London Waterloo station
Pamphlets and newspapers distributed on picket lines outside London Waterloo Station [Ben Stansall/AFP]

Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from the UK’s largest and busiest station at Waterloo, said it was “an extraordinary sight compared to normal”. Only 45% of services across the entire network will be operational, a fifth of the number of services compared to a normal weekday.

British public support for the strike is divided.

“Some people do have sympathy for the striking workers, not just train drivers and guards, those are many occupations for railroad workers,” Brennan said, adding: “People say the cost of living is going up like this and people have a right to The rate of getting a raise”.

But other commuters were frustrated by the disruption.

UK inflation soars in May highest annual rate For 40 years, the government has stepped up aid to families facing a worsening cost of living crisis, official figures show.

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