The British unions are about to fall into a trap

Tobias Stone
5 min readJun 21, 2022

For most of the week of June 20th, the RMT Union is calling the largest rail strike in 30 years. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, there will be virtually no trains in the UK.

Coming just after the pandemic, a lot of activity is just moving back online. However, the news is already full of stories of businesses, especially in hospitality, that are just beginning to recover from the pandemic being slammed by cancellations and losses. School children, who have been studying from home and seeing the exams that define their futures disrupted by the pandemic are again being trapped at home, just at the end of their first in-person exam period. There are plenty of genuine stories of how this rail strike will hit everyday people, struggling businesses, and the very workers the unions claim they are fighting for.

The RMT wants pay rises to account for inflation, which is predicted to rise to 11% this year. The rail industry wants modernisation — for example, adoption of technology that will require fewer workers to do manual tasks, but equally may create new jobs for those able to retrain into them.

The RMT Union blames the government for not intervening. The government say it is not for them to get involved in an industrial dispute. The government had to bail out the railway industry during the pandemic, and even now rail use has only returned to about 75% of its pre-pandemic levels.

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour party says the government could have prevented these strikes but chose not to in order to create a fight with the unions. The RMT leader says he favours a general strike, and pundits are warning of a ‘summer of discontent,’ an echo of the Winter of Discontent in the 1970s, when unions brought the country to a standstill.

So what is going on?

In the 1970s, when inflation was shooting up and the unions demanded, and won, large pay rises, this created an inflationary spiral, where the higher wages forced up prices in order to pay those wages, which forced up inflation, which led to more strikes, more wage hikes, more inflation, etc. The rest, quite literally, is history, and the unions today seem to be keen to ignore that bit of the history.

Tobias Stone

Writing about politics, history, and society. Also at,, @ts_writing