Strike-hit UK faces first rail shutdown of 2023

LONDON: British railway staff disrupted the New Year’s return to work on Tuesday in the latest strike by workers from various sectors during the worst cost of living crisis in a generation.
Workers across the economy are at odds with the government as they demand steep wage increases to deal with decades-high inflation, which currently stands at nearly 11%.
London’s normally busy train stations were quiet on Tuesday – the first normal working day of 2023 after the New Year’s break.
Network Rail, which operates the UK’s rail infrastructure, has warned travelers of “significantly reduced” rail services or no services at all in some areas until Sunday.
A five-day strike beginning Tuesday was to include two 48-hour strikes by around 40,000 members of the RMT union.
The Aslef union will also strike on Thursday.
Writer Richard Roques told AFP the stoppage was “really embarrassing” but he acknowledged railway workers were defending their livelihoods.
Another, retired Mike Farrelly, however, said he understood the government’s position “as there is only one amount of money for everyone”.
“I consider a lot of strikers to be reasonably well paid,” he said, adding that health workers should be considered a special case.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper has urged railway unions to return to the bargaining table.
“The unions have decided they want to go on strike this week which is deeply unnecessary, hurts the rail industry, hurts the interests of the people who work there,” he told Sky News.
“I want to see them back around the table and we can try to find an agreement between the employers and the unions.”
The RMT union, however, accused the government of intervening in negotiations in December to block a deal. Harper denies the claim.
general secretary RMT Mick Lynch said the minister sabotaged a potential settlement by insisting on the removal of guards from trains, in favor of trains operated solely by conductors.
The question is essential for the unions.
“So that’s prevented any progress on the matter and so that’s the direct responsibility of the Secretary of State (Harper),” Lynch said from a picket line at London Euston station.
Despite the escalation of wage demands, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to fight calls for anti-inflationary hikes, insisting the government must stick to more modest increases for public sector workers.
“The best way to help them and everyone else in the country is to bring inflation under control and reduce it as quickly as possible,” Sunak told a group of watchdog MPs late last year. .
Lynch told AFP the union was “really sorry that we had to take this action, that it impacts them (the public) and we understand their frustration, even their anger”.
“But we think some of that should be directed at the government.”
Those who went on strike in 2022 included railway, port, border and post office workers, as well as lawyers, nurses and ambulance staff.
More stops are planned in the coming weeks.


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