United Kingdom: stations deserted for the biggest rail strike in thirty years

United Kingdom: stations deserted for the biggest rail strike in thirty years

UK stations were largely deserted on Tuesday as commuters opted to avoid using the railways on the day railway workers launched a three-day strike over jobs and wages, billed as the biggest in thirty years.

The great hall of London’s King’s Cross station only welcomed a sparse public on Tuesday morning, mostly sympathetic to the railway workers’ strike, instead of the usual rush hour rush, while one line out of two was closed and four out of five trains canceled in the country.

“I have to travel all over the country for my job. So today I have to go to Leeds (north). There are not as many trains as usual, but I managed to manage” , Jim Stevens, 40, a commercial photographer, told AFP.

At St Albans station in north London, the first train did not leave until 8 a.m.

Due to a reduced train journey, Scott, a 43-year-old bank employee, will be off for a 25-minute walk when he arrives in the capital, but he does not hold it against the strikers. “They have to do it to make their voices heard,” he said.

After the failure of negotiations at the last hour, the parties stuck to their positions on Tuesday.

Transport Minister Grant Shapps spoke again on the Sky News channel of a “useless” walkout. “We will have to make these (rail) reforms no matter what,” he said.

The RMT union had warned in early June that more than 50,000 railway employees were going to stop work “during the biggest sectoral conflict since 1989” and the major privatizations of the sector, demanding in particular wage increases in line with galloping inflation.

In addition to wages, RMT denounces the deterioration of working conditions and “thousands of redundancies” planned, according to him, by the myriad of private companies that make up the rail sector in the United Kingdom.

Grant Shapps argues that there is a salary offer “on the table” – insufficient for the RMT – and that the “job cuts are on the whole voluntary”.

– Stressful –

RMT General Secretary Mike Lynch countered that “this mess was created by Grant Shapps and government policy”.

Tuesday is the biggest day of mobilization, while London Underground employees are also called to strike, but the strike will continue Thursday and Saturday.

At King’s Cross station, a Californian tourist, Sunnie Schmidt is relieved that her train for Edinburgh is announced for departure. “We booked this vacation months ago and we are leaving on the day of the biggest strike. It was stressful,” she says.

In front of the station, a dozen railway workers are gathered on a picket, with their red and green flags and banners stamped with the acronym of the RMT, regularly approached by passers-by with rather positive reactions, even if some are more critical.

Peter Chiodini, a 73-year-old doctor, a regular user of London transport, believes that the country “needs a guaranteed minimum service because people are going to lose money (with the strike), they are disturbed” for going to work or to their exams.

Since last week, the executive has been repeating that this strike will harm the countless Britons prevented from going to work or to medical appointments, and weigh on the accounts of SMEs already battered by COVID-19.

Grant Shapps says he is considering “protections” for public transport users, including a possible “minimum service” or the replacement of strikers, in particular by temporary workers.

This walkout also threatens to disrupt major sporting and cultural events, such as the Glastonbury Music Festival (south-west of England), a Rolling Stones concert in London on Saturday and the final exams of some high school students.

The government also argues that the strike risks encouraging even more telework and therefore a decline in the use of trains, in a sector which has benefited from 16 billion pounds of subsidies to help it cope with the fall in revenue during the pandemic.

The strike could nevertheless extend to other transport or other sectors, such as education, health, post. Some lawyers have already voted in favor of a walkout next week, because of a dispute with the government over the amount of legal aid.

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