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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Walkouts Paralyze Britain As 'Guerrilla Strikes' Go On

LONDON -- A rash of increasingly bitter "guerrilla style" strikes involving postal, rail and underground train unions is set to continue, with no end in sight to Britain's summer of discontent.


Postal workers walked out Tuesday in the fourth of a series of 24-hour strikes over pay and working practices that will be extended by five more stoppages this month and next -- each one holding up 70 million letters.


The Conservative government fired a shot across the bows of unions and management by suspending for a month the Royal Mail's 156-year-old letter service monopoly and threatening a further three-month suspension if there were more strikes.


Trade and industry minister Ian Lang delivered a clear warning that private firms could be allowed into the letter market on a full-time basis. "I hope that I will be able to produce some proposals which will enable the public to benefit from a greater degree of private sector involvement whilst at the same time preserving those parts of the service that people rely on as being very important," he told BBC radio.


London's underground train drivers stop work Wednesday in the seventh of their program of one-day walkouts in a dispute over pay and working hours.


Five more strikes in coming weeks will make life difficult for 1.6 million users of the capital's "tube." Railway drivers serving London are expected to strike in conjunction with the underground drivers on two days this month.


Walkouts by British public sector workers have become increasingly rare since the 1980s, when then prime minister Margaret Thatcher moved to curb what she saw as union excesses.


When they do occur as they have this summer, albeit on a less dramatic scale, they still evoke memories of the bitter disputes of the 1979 "winter of discontent," when piles of garbage lay uncollected in London streets and industrial action by gravediggers meant the dead went unburied.


If the tough industrial relations union legislation brought in by the Thatcher government had the effect of making it more difficult to strike, unions have now learned to make the rules work for them.


Industrial relations experts say strategy has changed, with unions preferring guerrilla-style 24-hour strikes timed to cause maximum disruption without causing the workers too much loss of earnings or forcing unions to pay a lot of strike pay.