(Bloomberg) -- Train drivers in the UK kicked off a string of labor strikes across the country, advocating for higher wages and creating disruptions for travelers at the height of the vacation season.
The strike on Saturday by members of Aslef, a union representing 96% of the nation’s train drivers, begins several days of walkouts by transport workers over the coming week. On Aug. 17, the country’s leading trade unionists will hold their “Enough Is Enough” rally in South London to protest rising costs.
Millions of Britons are facing a cost-of-living crisis amid the highest inflation in 40 years. It’s perhaps the single most important domestic issue facing the government as the Conservative Party determines who will succeed outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he steps down next month, following pressure from the party.
Rail companies operating on Saturday warned passengers of extremely limited service and busier-than-usual trains, with travelers including football fans venting their frustrations on social media. Compounding the issue, operators in some parts of the UK said they would have to run at reduced speeds due to high track temperatures, as a heat wave scorches the country.
Enough Is Enough, a union-led group that includes Labour MP Zarah Sultana, will kick off a series of 50 rallies across Britain. Strikes in subsequent days will encompass rail, London’s subway system and buses in parts of the capital.
By Friday, Enough is Enough said it had gathered 300,000 signatures of support in three days. The group has five key demands: a real-terms pay increase for workers, cuts to energy bills, an end to food poverty, construction of more-affordable homes, and higher taxes for top earners.
Headliners at the campaign’s rally on Wednesday are set to include Mick Lynch and Eddie Dempsey of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, who have both become high-profile figures as labor groups strike over pay. Lynch has said he would support a general strike.
The RMT is leading next week’s transport strikes as workers at Network Rail and 14 train operators strike on Aug. 18 and 20, while London Underground workers and some bus drivers strike on Aug. 19.
Rising costs and forecasts for soaring winter energy bills are leading to what some are calling a summer of discontent in the UK. In addition to train drivers, workers from postal staff to barristers are already planning walkouts. There are also increasing cases of “wildcat” strikes, especially at factories and industrial plants.
Tensions between bosses and labor groups are heightened. Aslef accused a minister and train operator Avanti of lying when the company blamed “unofficial” labor action for a drastic reduction in services on the West Coast main Line linking London with Birmingham, Manchester and Scotland. The union said a full timetable depends on drivers working overtime, which they are not obliged to do.
Ahead of Saturday’s walkout, Aslef boss Mick Whelan said “strikes are always a last resort” but added: “the companies, and the government, have, I’m afraid, forced our hand.”
Royal Mail Plc recently accused the Communication Workers Union of “an abdication of responsibility” for continuing to oppose reforms, saying it will sustain a full-year loss if 115,000 postal staff go ahead with a planned strike over pay.
Workers at Felixstowe, Britain’s biggest container ship port, plan to strike for eight days this month after failing to reach a pay deal, threatening to sever one of the UK’s most important trade routes. Shipping could see further disruption with a decision on whether to strike over pay at Liverpool’s dock due at the start of next week.
(Updates throughout with background.)
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