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Rail Strikes – Great British Walk Off

Strikes

Across England, Scotland and Wales rail services will run on a severely reduced timetable from this evening ahead of a national strike. The three day strike will be held on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday causing disruption throughout the week.

The strike is expected to be the biggest in 30 years and includes a one day strike on Tuesday on London Underground which will add to the disruption in the capital.

In the red corner

According to the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) says that the reason for the strike is “the decision by the Tory Government to cut £4bn of funding from our transport systems – £2bn from national rail and £2bn from Transport for London.”

The Government, on the other hand says that the unions are putting Britons through unwarranted paid by calling these strikes. Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport said “These strikes are incredibly premature … I can’t over-stress our determination to get the right outcome for the travelling public in the end on this, even if the unions insist on putting the country through considerable pain in the meantime.”

During an ongoing dispute it can be hard to judge where each party in dispute is and what sort of agreement could spare the country from strikes. The RMT and the Government however seem far from an agreement with the RMT putting our statements with references to the Government “[savaging] the Railway Pension Scheme” and the Government planning new legislation this week to replace rail workers with agency staff during strikes it seems unlikely that these strikes will be averted soon.

Minimum Service

The legislation will allow any employer to bring in outside staff to cover striking workers if they want to.

Paul Nowak, deputy secretary general of the Trades Union said: “Allowing agency staff to replace striking workers would undermine the right to strike and create genuine safety risks for the public and for the workforce.”

“Having repeatedly promised a high-wage economy, ministers now seem determined to reduce workers’ bargaining power and to make it harder for working people to win fair pay and conditions.”

The Government are also proposing introducing a law that would require a minimum service operates during transport strikes, but it has no date for introducing this legislation yet.

Summer of discontent

This legislation could anger trade unions as the UK enters a summer of potentially crippling strikes. As well as the railways there is a risk of strikes on the airlines, as British Airways workers have voted in favour of industrial action and Ryanair staff threaten walkouts. In Bristol, 100 staff at four care homes run by St Monica Trust are due to strike later this month over a restructure. The National Education Union has said that unless teachers receive a pay offer closer to inflation it would plan to ballot its 450,000 members, while Victor Adebowale, Chairman of the NHS Confederation warned that a real-terms pay rise for the lowest paid NHS staff was needed to avoid “a worsening of the NHS workforce crisis”.

Final Thought

While there is much huffing and puffing between Unions and the Government, the issue at stake across the economy is more or less singular. Inflation.

Inflation is causing the buying power of every employee to reduce at a time when the labour market is incredibly tight. This has caused workers and unions to rightly conclude that they are in a strong position to strike.

On the other hand the Government knows that if every worker were given a pay rise above or even at inflation it would only stoke further inflation next year. The cost of living crisis is being caused by interruptions in supply, due to Chinese lockdowns and the Russian invasion of Ukraine that cannot be fixed in the UK.  

To reduce inflation the Bank of England will have to increase interest rates slowing investment and therefore growth, the Government will need to give below inflation pay rises and the economy will need to adjust to the new reality of supply chain problems and higher fuel prices.

The best the Government can do is to provide targeted relief to those hardest hit by inflation to ensure people can ride out the storm. Once inflation is back under control and there is more slack in the global economy they could also consider taxing wealth and redistributing it to help reduce inequality which seems to increase whatever is going on in the economy.  

Photo Credit: Matt Buck

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