Over 50,000 railway workers across the UK are expected to take part in a series of strikes next week after pay negotiations failed. The government has said the unions oppose “modernization.”

The United Kingdom faces nationwide railway disruptions in the coming days, with only half of its network expected to run on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Some 50,000 railway workers are taking part in the staggered three-day walkout, believed to be the biggest since 1989. On Tuesday, London Underground workers will also go on a 24-hour strike.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers has said the protest is happening because the government is planning to cut thousands of jobs and is refusing to adjust salaries to keep up with soaring inflation.

“Our people are getting poorer while their jobs are under threat,” General Secretary Mick Lynch told the LBC radio station. “And if you survive the jobs cull that they’ve got in mind your working conditions will be diluted and you’ll be worse off.”

The union is demanding a 7.1% pay increase, Lynch added, claiming that they have not received any counteroffer from the government.

Lynch previously described economic troubles in the UK as a “class struggle” and called on opposition lawmakers to show which side they are on.

“Stand out and fight with us, or get out of the way,” he told the crowd at a rally on Saturday.

Thousands of workers already left voluntarily

Meanwhile, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps decried the strikes as “a huge mistake” and accused the unions of “gunning for this strike.”

“Yes, we need to reshape the workforce, but what is happening at the moment is the unions are stopping this modernization,” he told Sky News.

Shapps acknowledged that the government was looking to downsize the workforce and that he did not know how many people would need to be cut. At the same time, he noted that 2,700 people have already agreed to leave their jobs voluntarily.

“I think it is a huge act of self-harm to go on strike at the moment,” the transport secretary said.

The government argues that the union risks losing pubic sympathy by affecting people’s ability to get around, or of causing more job cuts by forcing consumers to seek alternative travel options, reducing overall demand.

dj/msh (Reuters, AFP)