The first day of the biggest rail strike in decades reminded much of the UK of lockdown as city centers grew quieter as millions avoided public transport, worked from home or drove their cars.
About 80% of services were concentrated during a 24-hour strike by 40,000 RMT union members, leaving much of northern England, Wales and Scotland without trains. Of the few trains that ran and the stations that remained open, most were quiet as passengers heeded advice to avoid travel.
A one-day London Underground strike by another 10,000 RMT members exacerbated hardship for those who needed to cross the capital, effectively shutting down the entire Underground network.
National rail services will start later that day and on Wednesday with a reduced schedule due to the indirect effects of the strike and staff strikes on some night shifts.
Talks should resume between Network Rail and RMT, and between the union and train operators, before two more nationwide 24-hour strikes are scheduled Thursday and Saturday.
Network Rail stepped up pressure on RMT, announcing that it would begin a formal process to push for reforms in working methods and cut 1,800 maintenance staff, including forced layoffs if necessary. Hopes for a breakthrough remain weak this week after the union rejected 3% of the industry’s bids on Monday.
In a letter to RMT management, Network Rail said it “could no longer delay” plans to reform its maintenance regimes, although it “would prefer to implement them with your consent and cooperation.”
Tim Schoveller, Network Rail’s chief negotiator, said: “The change will mean moving away from outdated ways of working and introducing new technologies, resulting in a more efficient and safe service organization.”
He said he hoped most of the 1,800 job losses would be “through voluntary layoffs and natural layoffs”, although voluntary layoffs would require the union to adopt reforms.
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said the picket turnout was “fantastic and exceeded all expectations” and vowed that the participants would continue the campaign, “leading the path for all the workers in this country who are fed up with getting their pay.” and conditions curtailed by a mixture of big business profits and public policy.”
A Department of Transportation spokesman said the closures hit businesses and unfairly cut people off from hospitals, schools and work, adding: “However, preliminary data shows that, unlike in the past, many people now have the option to work from home, so we are even not [had] rush on the roads as traffic has gone online instead, meaning the unions are not having the overall impact they could hope to have.”
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