LONDON (AP) – Train stations were all but deserted across Britain on Saturday as the third day of a nationwide strike disrupted the weekend plans of millions.
Rail companies said just a fifth of passenger traffic would run as some 40,000 cleaners, signallers, maintenance workers and station workers walked out in Britain’s biggest and most disruptive rail strike in 30 years.
The same workers went on a 24-hour strike Tuesday and Thursday over jobs, wages and working conditions.
The rail, shipping and transport union is targeting a significant pay rise as workers face cost-of-living pressures amid four decades of high inflation rates. Rail companies, meanwhile, are trying to cut costs and staff after two years of being kept afloat by emergency government funding during the pandemic.
Union General Secretary Mick Lynch said rail workers would not accept being “thrown into the scrapyard after being hailed as heroes during COVID” and warned there could be more strikes over the summer.
“We will not hesitate to take further industrial action if we cannot reach an agreement or if the companies carry out their threats to lay off employees,” he told Sky News.
The Conservative government insists it will not intervene in the dispute, which pits the union against 13 private rail companies and state infrastructure company National Rail.
But the union accuses the government of wrecking negotiations by preventing employers from improving the 3% pay rise previously on the table. UK inflation hit 9.1% in May as Russia’s war in Ukraine cuts supplies of energy and basic necessities as post-pandemic consumer demand surges.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said rail passenger numbers had only returned to 75% of pre-pandemic levels and that there was a need for “reform and improvement in the way railways work and modernisation”.
He has also warned that large pay rises would trigger a wage-price spiral that would push inflation even higher.
Unions have told the country to brace for more as workers face the worst cost-of-living pressures in more than a generation. British Airways workers at Heathrow Airport voted to go on strike over the summer holidays, lawyers are planning a strike from next week and unions representing teachers and postal workers plan to consult their members on possible action.