LONDON – When he heard there would be a three-day traffic strike starting Thursday, Bereket Tsegay started checking train times daily to make sure he would make his train to London from Brighton on the coast south of England where he works. The last strike had caught him three hours late.
But while he was saved, Mr. Tsegay said it left him frustrated with both operators and unions. “I don’t feel safe until I go to see my train, because anything can happen,” he said. “We, the customers, are the victims,” he added. “Why should I become a victim of their conflict?”
He was not the only one to feel aggrieved, as train travel in Britain largely ground to a halt after tens of thousands of rail workers walked out over pay disputes, the latest industrial action in a summer of labor unrest and stifling heat.
It was the sixth rail strike since June, with walkouts lasting into Saturday in some locations during the peak summer travel season. Friday’s strike will target transport in London.
A series of failed negotiations between rail companies and unions meant that only about a fifth of regular trains were running, leaving some areas without rail services. according to Network Rail, the company that manages the country’s railway system. Travelers were advised to take only essential trips.
But after a summer of disruptions, in addition to strikes, the summer heat has caused problems, among others buckling tracks — travelers reacted with a mixture of resignation, anxiety and annoyance.
“Of course it affects everybody, and it’s frustrating,” said Moke Wall, a furniture maker who had taken twice as much time as usual to attend a client meeting across town. “I am appalled at the government.”
Marie Claude Beck, who was visiting from France, found herself in a difficult situation. His train to Norwich, England, from Paris had already been booked when he learned of the strike last month.
This left her anxiously looking at a timetable board at Liverpool Street station in east London, hoping that she and her granddaughter would make the last leg of their journey.
“I think they have good reasons that I can understand,” he said of the striking workers. But, she added, “It’s very uncomfortable and I’m very anxious.”
The departure came as the UK was experiencing the fastest rise in consumer prices in four decades, raising concerns of a cost-of-living crisis as goods and services, including essentials, they are getting more expensive.
Inflation in Britain rose in July to 10.1 percent, the government said on Wednesday, compared with last year, and economists say the worst is yet to come, forecasting a peak in the autumn before from warnings that households will experience large increases in energy bills.
“It really shot up during the summer months,” said Xiaowei Xu, a senior research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think tank. “People are quite worried about what’s going on.”
While wages have grown, they have lagged behind prices when adjusted for inflation. Wage growth in the transportation sector has lagged behind the economy as a whole, Ms. Xu, adding that it is easier for workers to find other jobs and take advantage of these times.
Still, policymakers are worried that inflation will persist as workers negotiate higher wages and businesses raise the prices of goods and services to keep up.
This week’s strikes are part of a protracted standoff between unions and rail companies over pay and pension disparities that culminated in the biggest rail strike in three decades in June.
Credit…Andrew Milligan/Press Association, via Associated Press
A number of unions representing workers in the rail industry, including the main rail union, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, known as the RMT, and the Transport Salaried Personnel Association, have separately voted to strike this week, although the same wide. issues of pay, job security and working conditions were at issue.
That three-day strike stranded commuters between cities and tied up London’s streets with cars and bikes as commuters took detours that sometimes added hours to their usual journey to work.
On Wednesday, transportation officials criticized union leaders, accusing them of using the strikes to prevent reforms to a system they called inefficient, including using technology to complete tasks once done by workers.
“We need to make it harder for trade unionists in secure, well-paid jobs to victimize other far less fortunate workers, for example by preventing them from getting to work,” wrote Grant Shapps, the transport secretary. The Daily Mail. Added on Twitter that the government had a plan to “rebalance labor relations in favor of the public”.
But while unions and rail companies have been unable to agree a package, the RMT, which represents many of the 50,000 workers on strike this week, went a step further. He accused the Conservative government of using the strikes to promote an anti-union agenda, charging that the government was blocking rail companies from offering them a fair package for political reasons amid a row over British leadership.
Lawmakers from the opposition Labor Party, which has long-standing ties to unions, expressed support for the strikes, with some taking to picket lines.
“I think there is now a political dimension, which is unfortunate because this is an industrial relations issue about jobs, conditions and pay,” Mick Lynch, general secretary of the union. he told the BBC Thursday.
Network Rail said it was disappointed unions had rejected an offer it called “good and fair”, noting that earnings for passengers traveling remained below pre-pandemic levels. On Thursday, its chief executive Andrew Haines told reporters he wanted workers to vote in a referendum on a new pay offer, blaming the RMT for the hold-up.
According to an estimate by the Office for National Statistics in May, rail workers, including drivers, earned an average salary of £43,747, or about $52,600, in 2021, although that average fell to £36,800, or about $44,250 not including driver salaries.
But with workers in other fields, including airlines, school teachers and postal workers, also considering strikes this summer, labor unrest could persist for some time.
“People are getting poorer every day of the week,” said Mr. Lynch told reporters in London on Thursday, adding that future walkouts could continue indefinitely in the transportation industry and elsewhere until pay disputes are resolved.
“What they’re trying to fight for is what they believe in,” said Ben Scopes, who had chosen to brave the trains to return to Ipswich, north-east London, after a family holiday. “It is what it is.”