Britain is winding down for the Christmas and holiday season, but a wave of strikes in several sectors is winding up many as the Theresa May government comes under pressure to avert travel and trade chaos from this week.
From baggage handlers at airports to flight crews and railway workers to post office employees – all have announced strikes for higher pay and other grievances, raising tempers and temperatures at airports, railway stations and elsewhere.
Many of the grievances are old, but have been raised now since they are assured media coverage in the run-up to Christmas. The strikes provide another face of the festive spirit reflected in the attractive lighting of Oxford Street and Regent Street in London and elsewhere.
Strikes are due to hit the British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, as well as Southern Rail, which caters to a large number of commuters. Christmas cards and gifts sent through the post office face considerable delay.
MPs of the ruling Conservative Party criticised the strikes by Labour-controlled unions as “politically motivated”, and called for tougher laws to make it harder for staff to take action. They included transport secretary Chris Grayling, but 10, Downing Street distanced itself from his views.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trade Union Congress, dismissed the suggestion, saying Britain already had some of the most draconian anti-union laws in the western world.
Senior Labour leader Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, defended union leaders: “Of course these strikes are going to be very disastrous if they all go ahead for the public over Christmas, but people do have a legal right to strike.”
But Labour MP Meg Hillier told Sky that unions could be “shooting themselves in the foot” by opting for industrial action during the festive season. “There needs to be a wake-up call about the impact on hard-working people trying to get to work or go on holiday,” she said.