Thousands of train workers in Britain began a fresh round of strikes Thursday, paralyzing rail service across the country in an ongoing dispute over pay and work conditions exacerbated by a deepening cost-of-living crisis.
Only around one in five trains ran across the U.K. as a result of the walkout by union members, who have already staged multiple strikes in recent months. A strike planned for Friday is expected to affect the London Underground subway network as well as bus service in the capital, while another walkout on Saturday is set disrupt national train travel again.
Mick Lynch, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, alleged an “anti-union agenda” of the U.K.'s Conservative government was prolonging the labor dispute.
He said rail workers, like other public sector employees in the U.K., are struggling to cope with soaring food and fuel prices. The country's inflation rate jumped to a new 40-year high of 10.1% in July, official figures showed Wednesday, higher than analysts’ central forecast of 9.8%.
“People in this country are fed up with low pay. Many millions of people have not had a proper pay deal for decades," Lynch said Thursday at the picket line in London’s Euston train station. "So public sector workers in health care, education, transport, all sort of services, have been subjected to pay cuts and rampant inflation."
The government has argued it had to use public funding to protect rail workers' jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and officials want the train system to be financially sustainable for the future. They say a fair pay offer was presented to rail workers. A Department for Transport spokesperson said union leaders were “opting to inflict misery and disrupt the day-to-day lives of millions” for the sixth time since June instead of working to reach a deal.