GBritain faces its biggest rail strike in decades this week. According to the plans of the RMT union, its 40,000 members will paralyze rail traffic in large parts of the country on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Only a fifth of the usual 20,000 trains will run. On the days in between, the thirteen private railway companies affected have to reduce their connections by almost half. In Scotland and Wales, rail traffic is largely suspended. Millions of commuters, tourists, business travelers and freight transport are affected. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps called the strike a “huge mistake”.
The rail workers’ union, RMT, is demanding more wages at least equal to inflation, which would mean a near double-digit increase, and they are protesting at the threat of layoffs at the state-owned rail network company Network Rail. RMT General Secretary Mike Lynch blamed the government for the escalation of the industrial dispute. At a rally outside Parliament in London over the weekend, he called out: “The message is clear: we are now in a class struggle.” He called the ruling Tories “butchers of workers’ rights”.
Transport Secretary Shapps warned that the union was punishing “millions of innocent people” with the major strikes. During the pandemic period, the railways have been supported with around £16 billion (about 18.5 billion euros) in taxpayer money to offset losses. The number of passengers is still lower than before Corona, so the railways have to save.
Big drop in sales
The government has drawn up contingency plans with the private sector to ensure the transport of goods by rail. John Smith, chief executive of rail freight group GB Rail Freight, said the initial strike was “manageable”. If the strikes last longer, there could be problems with the fuel supply at the petrol stations. The gastronomy and tourism industry expects a sharp drop in sales as a result of the strikes this week. The UK Hospitality Association spoke of more than 500 million pounds (around 600 million euros) in losses in the hospitality industry alone due to commuters staying away. Economists estimate the overall economic losses caused by the major strikes to be in the billions. Representatives of the opposition Labor Party have backed the rail workers’ strikes. RMT Secretary General Lynch announced that the industrial action could go on for longer. He has a mandate for six months of strikes, which could also be extended.
The transport union “National Union of Railway, Maritime and Transport Workers” (RMT) is known to be militant and politically far left. Its President, Alex Gordon, is a member of the Communist Party of Britain and sits on its Executive Committee. The strike brings back memories of other great labor disputes in British history. In 1989, a six-week labor dispute at British Rail largely paralyzed rail services.