LONDON — As tens of thousands of train workers went on strike Tuesday in the biggest such action in three decades, the British commute turned into a slog for millions of people.
With 80 percent of trains canceled and 40,000 workers out on strike, some lines were completely shut down, and usually bustling central stations were nearly empty.
The London Underground — also known as “the Tube” — was also mostly closed because of another strike.
Tuesday’s action was the first of three rail strikes planned this week. More misery is scheduled for Thursday and Saturday.
The maintenance crews, ticket takers and conductors — represented by the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) union — reached an impasse with their bosses at Network Rail in a fight over pay, pensions, job security and working conditions.
Network Rail said it was “profoundly sorry” for the disruption. Negotiations continue, the union says.
British union leaders are threatening a “summer of discontent,” as more workers could go on strike to demand pay increases to cope with surging inflation and a rising cost of living.
Unions representing bus drivers, teachers, nursing home workers, trash collectors, doctors, nurses, mail carriers and airport baggage handlers may join future strikes.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in public remarks to his cabinet Tuesday, condemned the strikers for causing “disruption and inconvenience up and down the country, making it more difficult for people to get to work, risking people’s health appointments and making it challenging for kids to sit exams.”
Johnson called the strikes “wrong and unnecessary.” He said the government spent $20 billion during the pandemic to keep the railways operating and urged “union bosses” to find a compromise with the railway companies and end the strike.