Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

U.K. Railway Workers Begin Largest Strike in 30 Years

Amid high inflation, tens of thousands of railway and subway workers across the United Kingdom have declared at least three days of work stoppages to demand wage increases and other protections. Transport across much of the region has ground to a halt.

Facebook Twitter Share

Train stations across the United Kingdom and the London Underground remained closed or inoperative on Tuesday. Striking railway and transport workers are demanding better salaries in the context of a sharp increase in prices.

Inflation in the country currently stands at 9.2 percent, and could reach upwards of 11 percent in the fall when energy and oil prices are likely to rise again, according to government officials. Prices are expected to rise by 50 percent in October when the cold weather sets in, on the heels of a 50 percent increase in April.

This is the United Kingom’s biggest rail strike in more than 30 years. The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport workers (RMT) called for actions across the industry today, and has called for two more day-long strikes on June 23 and June 25. Workers are demanding improvements to the public system, Network Rail, as well as to the privately-operated lines.

Hundreds of photos show picketing workers enforcing the closures, coming out in force to stand in front of train stations, workshops, and operating stations.

Trains are not running in England, Scotland, or Wales. About 40,000 cleaners, signalers, maintenance workers and station staff on the railways have also joined the action.

Tuesday’s historic rail strike coincides with a strike of around 10,000 London Underground workers, who are fighting against job losses and attacks on pensions.

In London today, there is very limited subway service, with most lines not running. The closures have created long lines at city bus stops, while demand for cabs has been significant. The government has advised the populace to avoid traveling as much as possible.

Even as the strike brings the country to a standstill, British Transport Minister Grant Shapps has refused to meet with the railway unions to resolve the dispute over wages amid rising inflation. For its part, the Labour Party has rebuked the strike from the top: a leaked memo from Labour leader Keir Starmer enjoined the party’s senior members in parliament from publicly supporting the strike. 

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson’s government has hit back, trying to break the strike by allowing companies to bring in agency and outsourced staff, a move that unions have denounced as impractical, unsafe, and potentially in breach of international law. However, Johnson has so far been unsuccessful, and the strike remains firm.

In the days ahead of the strike, the government announced that it would seek ways to designate railway service as essential, forcing train operators to provide minimum services even during the work stoppages. So far this has not happened, but it shows the government’s desperation to weaken the strike and slow the struggle for wage increases. However, there is no end in sight for the decline in purchasing power which led to the strike, which will only increase the economic pressure on millions of workers.

The strike was precipitated by a meagre offer by Network Rail to raise public sector workers’ wages by 3 percent. Wages for these workers have been frozen since 2020, so this ostensible “raise” leaves workers’ salaries far below the cost of living.

In this context, thousands of workers grouped in the Trades Union Congress (TUC) federation took to the streets over the past weekend across England and Wales. The protest passed in front of 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s official residence, before reaching Westminster Palace, the seat of Parliament.

For its part, the National Education Union (NEU) declared that if it does not receive a wage offer by Wednesday that matches inflation, the union will put forward a strike authorization vote among its 450,000 members. If the vote passes, teachers would go on strike in the fall, between September and October.

Meanwhile, workers in the NHS (National Health Service) are faced with a new contract that would put their wages well below inflation. For nursing staff, this would essentially mean a 10 percent cut in their income, a prospect which has already caused widespread discontent among workers.

Clearly, the U.K.’s public sector workers have plenty of reasons to strike. The depreciation of wages affects millions of workers who served on the front lines of the pandemic over the last two years. This sector faces much slower rates of wage growth than the country as a whole. Official figures show private sector wages rising by 8.7 percent per year, compared to just 1.6 percent in the public sector.

Unions estimate that British workers have lost around one third of their purchasing power compared to 2008, due to inflation and the lack of commensurate wage increases. They claim that this is the biggest fall in “real wages” since 1830.

As we pointed out in a previous article, “The dynamics of this situation and the predisposition of workers to fight for their rights reminds us of what was known as the ‘winter of discontent’ — a wave of struggles that took place in the winter of 1978-1979 in the United Kingdom in response to the then Labour government’s attempt to impose a 5 percent wage ceiling at a time of high inflation.” The advance of the struggle depends on extending the strike, and integrating more sectors and workers into the fight. 


This article was originally published in Spanish on June 21, 2022 in La Izquierda Diario.

Translation by Madeleine Freeman

Facebook Twitter Share

La Izquierda Diario Argentina

Our Argentinian sister site, part of the international network of La Izquierda Diario

Labor Movement

Hear a Striking Minnesota Nurse Speak Out about the Exploitative Working Conditions Nurses Face

Below we share the text from a speech a striking nurse gave to others on strike in Minnesota. Those striking are fighting against hospitals and a healthcare system that continues to put profit over people’s lives.

Maryam Alaniz

September 14, 2022

Now More than Ever, the Working Class Needs Independent, Democratic Unions

Recently, discussions about unionization have become a national conversation. New workplaces are unionizing and the question of how to ensure their democratic functioning is the order of the day.

James Dennis Hoff

September 14, 2022
A crowd of about 100 workers and their allies, many of them dressed in SEIU purple, gather with signs in front of Columbia's Butler Library to demand bigger raises

SEIU Colludes with Columbia to Push Through Contract for Staff

The proposed contract would provide raises of only three percent per year, an effective pay cut. Workers are waging a “Vote No” campaign.

Olivia Wood

September 1, 2022

Fighting for Union Recognition and Quality Care: An Interview with a Madison, WI Nurse

Left Voice member and NYC healthcare worker Mike Pappas interviews a nurse from Madison, Wisconsin about his and his coworkers’ lengthy fight for union recognition. Nurses are currently preparing for a potential strike if the hospital continues to deny recognizing their union.

Left Voice

August 31, 2022

MOST RECENT

Italian far-right leader Giorgia Meloni gives a speech, an Italian flag covers the podium

Elections in Italy amid Political Crisis: Interview with an Italian Socialist

The right wing is expected to win in Italy’s snap elections on Sunday. An Italian socialist explains the origins of the current political crisis, the rise of the right wing, and the tasks for the Left.

Left Voice

September 21, 2022
Detroit protesters hold green banner that says "DTE" Affordable Renewable Energy Now

Detroiters Say ‘Hell No!’ to DTE’s Proposed Electricity Rate Hike

Detroiters are confronting regulators who are deciding whether private utilities can extract more profits from the working class during energy, inflation, housing, and climate crises.

Lee Palmer

September 20, 2022

Say Her Name! Protests Erupt across Iran after Police Murder of Mahsa Amini

Iran has erupted over the death of a young woman in police custody for "improperly" wearing the hijab. In the context of a deep economic and political crisis, Iranians are also questioning their deeply unpopular regime and its brutal oppression of women.

Maryam Alaniz

September 20, 2022
US President Joe Biden stands in a suit wearing a mask, but is taking off one side of it.

Despite What Biden Says, the Pandemic Isn’t Over

Joe Biden and the bourgeoisie may be ready for the pandemic to be over, but that doesn’t mean Covid-19 has gone away.

Olivia Wood

September 20, 2022