UK rail strike strands commuters, pits workers against government

UK rail strike strands commuters, pits workers against government
Workers and members of The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union stand on a picket across the street from Victoria railway station in London on Tuesday. (AP)
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Updated 22 June 2022

UK rail strike strands commuters, pits workers against government

UK rail strike strands commuters, pits workers against government
  • About 40,000 cleaners, signalers, maintenance workers and station staff held a 24-hour strike
  • Two more are planned for Thursday and Saturday

LONDON: Tens of thousands of railway workers walked off the job in Britain on Tuesday, bringing the train network to a crawl in the country’s biggest transit strike for three decades — and a potential precursor to a summer of labor discontent.
About 40,000 cleaners, signalers, maintenance workers and station staff held a 24-hour strike, with two more planned for Thursday and Saturday. Compounding the pain for commuters, London Underground subway services were also hit by a walkout on Tuesday.
The dispute centers on pay, working conditions and job security as Britain’s railways struggle to adapt to travel and commuting habits changed — perhaps forever — by the coronavirus pandemic. With passenger numbers still not back to pre-pandemic levels but the government ending emergency support that kept the railways afloat, train companies are seeking to cut costs and staffing.
Sustained national strikes are uncommon in Britain these days, but unions have warned the country to brace for more as workers face the worst cost-of-living squeeze in more than a generation. Lawyers in England and Wales have announced they will walk out starting next week, while unions representing teachers and postal workers both plan to consult their members about possible actions.
Major railway stations were largely deserted on Tuesday, with only about 20 percent of passenger trains scheduled to run. Services will resume Wednesday, but lingering disruption means only about 60 percent of trains are due to run.
The strike upended the plans of employees trying to get to work, students heading for end-of-year exams and music-lovers making their way to the Glastonbury Festival, which starts Wednesday in southwest England.
Roads in London were more congested than usual as commuters turned to cars and taxis. But footfall was 27 percent lower than last Tuesday, according to retail analysts Springboard, as many people canceled trips or worked from home if they could.
Nurse manager Priya Govender was at London Bridge station Tuesday morning, struggling to get back to her home south of the city after spending the night in a hotel.
“I definitely will not be able to get a bus because they are packed. I will have to get an Uber,” she said. “My day has been horrible. It is going to be a long day, and I still have a full day’s work to do.” She planned to work from home, once she made it there.
The Center for Economics and Business Research consultancy said the three days of strikes could cost the economy at least 91 million pounds ($112 million).
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of industry body UKHospitality, said the walkout would cost restaurants, cafes and bars business that is sorely needed after two years of pandemic disruption, and “fragile consumer confidence will take a further hit.”
With inflation currently running at 9 percent, the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union says it cannot accept rail firms’ latest offer of a 3 percent raise.
But the train companies argue they can’t offer more, given current passenger numbers. There were almost 1 billion train journeys in the UK in the year to March — compared to 1.7 billion in the 12 months before the pandemic.
While the Conservative government says it’s not involved in the talks, the union notes that it plays a major role in the heavily regulated industry, including providing subsidies long before the pandemic, and argues it could give rail companies more flexibility to offer a substantial pay increase.
The government has warned that big raises will spark a wage-price spiral driving inflation even higher.
Electrical engineer Harry Charles said he supported the strikers — even though his normal 10-minute train journey to London Bridge took him 90 minutes by bus.
“Their money is not going up, and the cost of everything is rising,” he said. “The strike has caused a lot of hassle for people, but everyone wants be able to eat and be able to afford to put in a good day’s work.”
All sides are keeping an eye on public frustration, especially in the event of repeated disruptions, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson was quick to pin responsibility for the strike firmly on the unions.
He told his Cabinet on Tuesday that the strikes were “so wrong and so unnecessary,” and said “union barons” should sit down with bosses and come to a deal.
The government says it plans to change the law so that train companies will have to provide a minimum level of service during walkouts, if necessary by hiring contract workers to fill in for striking staff.
Johnson knows strikes can define, and sometimes defeat, a government. In the 1970s, a wave of walkouts against a backdrop of high inflation — culminating in the 1978-79 “Winter of Discontent,” when bodies went unburied and garbage piled up in the streets — helped topple Britain’s Labour government and bring Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to power.
Thatcher’s decade in office brought free-market reforms that curbed the power of trade unions and created a more flexible — and, for workers, more uncertain — economy. Britain has had relatively low numbers of strikes ever since. But that may change as the UK is hit with its highest inflation levels in decades.
Millions of people in Britain, like those across Europe, are seeing their cost of living soar, in part driven by Russia’s war in Ukraine that is squeezing supplies of energy and food staples, including wheat. Prices were already rising before the war, as the global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic fueled strong consumer demand.
But Susan Millson from south London, who abandoned a train trip to see her sister south of the city, blamed both sides.
“I just think it’s outrageous that there is no give and take between the unions and the government,” she said. “No one is giving any leeway at the moment. It’s awful.”


NATO chief fears Ukraine war could become a wider conflict

NATO chief fears Ukraine war could become a wider conflict
Updated 10 December 2022

NATO chief fears Ukraine war could become a wider conflict

NATO chief fears Ukraine war could become a wider conflict
  • The Kremlin has repeatedly accused NATO allies of effectively becoming a party to the conflict by providing Ukraine with weapons, training its troops and feeding military intelligence to attack Russian forces

KYIV, Ukraine: The head of NATO expressed worry that the fighting in Ukraine could spin out of control and become a war between Russia and NATO, according to an interview released Friday.
“If things go wrong, they can go horribly wrong,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in remarks to Norwegian broadcaster NRK.
“It is a terrible war in Ukraine. It is also a war that can become a full-fledged war that spreads into a major war between NATO and Russia,” he said. “We are working on that every day to avoid that.”
Stoltenberg, a former prime minister of Norway, said in the interview that “there is no doubt that a full-fledged war is a possibility,” adding that it was important to avoid a conflict “that involves more countries in Europe and becomes a full-fledged war in Europe.”
The Kremlin has repeatedly accused NATO allies of effectively becoming a party to the conflict by providing Ukraine with weapons, training its troops and feeding military intelligence to attack Russian forces.
In comments that reflected soaring tensions between Russia and the West, President Vladimir Putin suggested Moscow might think about using what he described as the US concept of a preemptive strike.
“Speaking about a disarming strike, maybe it’s worth thinking about adopting the ideas developed by our US counterparts, their ideas of ensuring their security,” he said.
Long before the Ukraine war, the Kremlin expressed concern about US efforts to develop the so-called Prompt Global Strike capability that envisions hitting an adversary’s strategic targets with precision-guided conventional weapons anywhere in the world within one hour.
Putin noted that such a strike could knock out command facilities.
“We are just thinking about it, they weren’t shy to openly talk about it during the past years,” he said, claiming that Moscow’s precision-guided cruise missiles outperform similar US weapons and Russia has hypersonic weapons that the US hasn’t deployed.
Putin also said he was disappointed with former German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent comments that a 2015 peace deal for eastern Ukraine negotiated by France and Germany had bought time for Ukraine to prepare for the 2022 war.
“I assumed that other participants of the process were sincere with us, but it turned out that they were cheating us,” he said. “It turned out that they wanted to pump Ukraine with weapons and prepare for hostilities.”
Putin argued that Merkel’s statement showed that Russia was right in launching what he calls the “special military operation” in Ukraine. “Perhaps we should have started it earlier,” he said.
He also said her comments further eroded Russia’s trust in the West, complicating any possible peace talks.
“Eventually we will have to negotiate an agreement,” he said. “But after such statements there is an issue of trust. Trust is close to zero. I repeatedly have said that we are ready for an agreement, but it makes us think, think about whom we are dealing with.”
In separate comments via video link to defense and security chiefs of several ex-Soviet nations, Putin again accused the West of using Ukraine as a tool against his country.
“For many years, the West shamelessly exploited and pumped out its resources, encouraged genocide and terror in the Donbas and effectively turned the country into a colony,” he said. “Now it’s cynically using the Ukrainian people as cannon fodder, as a ram against Russia by continuing to supply Ukraine with weapons and ammunition, sending mercenaries and pushing it to a suicidal track.”
Ukrainians say they are fighting for freedom against an unwanted invader and aggressor.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by phone Friday and both “agreed on the importance of preempting Russia’s insincere calls for a cease-fire,” Sunak’s office said. “The prime minister added that the Kremlin needed to withdraw its forces before any agreement could be considered.”
Heavy fighting continued Friday in eastern and southern Ukraine, mostly in regions that Russia illegally annexed in September.
Ukraine’s presidential office said five civilians have been killed and another 13 have been wounded by Russian shelling in the last 24 hours.
Donetsk regional Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said the Russians were pressing an offensive on Bakhmut with daily attacks, despite taking heavy casualties.
“You can best describe those attacks as cannon fodder,” Kyrylenko said in televised remarks. “They are mostly relying on infantry and less on armor, and they can’t advance.”
In neighboring Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, regional Gov. Serhiy Haidai said the Ukrainian military was pushing its counteroffensive toward Kreminna and Svatove.
He voiced hope Ukraine can reclaim control of Kreminna by year’s end, and then by the end of winter reclaim areas in the region that were captured by Russia since the war began.
In the south, Kherson regional Gov. Yaroslav Yanyshevych said eight civilians were wounded by Russian shelling in the last 24 hours, and in the city of Kherson that Ukraine retook last month, a children’s hospital and a morgue were damaged.
In the neighboring Zaporizhzhia region, Russian forces shelled Nikopol and Chervonohryhorivka, which are across the Dnieper River from the Russia-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Zaporizhzhia Gov. Valentyn Reznichenko said Russian shelling damaged residential buildings and power lines.
In the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine, Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said three civilians were wounded by Russian shelling, with one later dying.

 


Putin says Russia could adopt US preemptive strike concept

Putin says Russia could adopt US preemptive strike concept
Updated 09 December 2022

Putin says Russia could adopt US preemptive strike concept

Putin says Russia could adopt US preemptive strike concept
  • "We are just thinking about it. They weren’t shy to openly talk about it during the past years,” Putin said
  • For years, the Kremlin has expressed concern about US efforts to develop the so-called Conventional Prompt Global Strike capability

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Moscow could adopt what he described as a US concept of using preemptive military strikes, noting it has the weapons to do the job, in a blunt statement amid rising Russia-NATO tensions over Ukraine.
“We are just thinking about it. They weren’t shy to openly talk about it during the past years,” Putin said, referring to the US policy, as he attended a summit in Kyrgyzstan of a Moscow-dominated economic alliance of ex-Soviet nations.
For years, the Kremlin has expressed concern about US efforts to develop the so-called Conventional Prompt Global Strike capability that envisions hitting an adversary’s strategic targets with precision-guided conventional weapons anywhere in the world within one hour.
“Speaking about a disarming strike, maybe it’s worth thinking about adopting the ideas developed by our US counterparts, their ideas of ensuring their security,” Putin said with a thin smile, noting that such a preemptive strike was intended to knock out command facilities.
He claimed that Russia already has commissioned hypersonic weapons capable of carrying out such a strike, while the US hasn’t yet deployed them. He also claimed that Russia now has cruise missiles that surpass their US equivalents.
While Putin appeared to refer to conventional precision-guided weapons when he talked about possibly mimicking the US strategy, he specifically noted that the US hasn’t ruled out the first use of nuclear weapons.
“If the potential adversary believes that it can use the theory of a preemptive strike and we don’t, it makes us think about the threats posed by such ideas in other countries’ defensive posture,” he said.
In Washington, advisers to President Joe Biden viewed Putin’s comments as “saber-rattling” and another veiled warning that he could deploy a tactical nuclear weapon, according to a US official who was not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of the anonymity.
The official noted that Russian military doctrine has long stated that Moscow reserves the right to first use of a nuclear weapon in response to large scale military aggression.
John Erath, senior policy director for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, also viewed Putin’s statement as yet another attempt to raise the nuclear threat.
“He doesn’t quite say we’re going to launch nuclear weapons, but he wants the dialogue in the US and Europe to be, ‘The longer this war goes on, the greater the threat of nuclear weapons might be used,’” Erath said.
Putin was asked Wednesday at a Kremlin conference whether Russia could commit to forswearing a first strike and responded that such an obligation might prevent Russia from tapping its nuclear arsenal even if it came under a nuclear attack.
“If it doesn’t use it first under any circumstances, it means that it won’t be the second to use it either, because the possibility of using it in case of a nuclear strike on our territory will be sharply limited,” he responded.
He elaborated on that answer Friday, saying Russia’s nuclear doctrine is based on the “launch on warning” concept, which envisions nuclear weapons’ use in the face of an imminent nuclear attack spotted by its early warning systems.
“When the early warning system receives a signal about a missile attack, we launch hundreds of missiles that are impossible to stop,” he said, smiling. “Enemy missile warheads would inevitably reach the territory of the Russian Federation. But nothing would be left of the enemy too, because it’s impossible to intercept hundreds of missiles. And this, of course, is a factor of deterrence.”
Russia’s nuclear doctrine states the country can use nuclear weapons if it comes under a nuclear strike or if it faces an attack with conventional weapons that threatens “the very existence” of the Russian state.
Since sending Russian troops into Ukraine in February, Putin has repeatedly said that Moscow was ready to use “all available means” to protect its territory and has rejected Western criticism of nuclear saber-rattling.
“I understand that ever since nuclear weapons, the weapons of mass destruction have appeared, all people — the entirety of humankind — have been worried what will happen to the planet and all of us,” he said.
At a ceremony Friday at US Strategic Command, which has responsibility for the nation’s nuclear weapons, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Putin’s repeated threats were irresponsible.
“As the Kremlin continues its cruel and unprovoked war of choice against Ukraine, the whole world has seen Putin engage and deeply irresponsible nuclear saber-rattling So make no mistake, nuclear powers have a profound responsibility to avoid provocative behavior and to lower the risk of proliferation and to prevent escalation and nuclear war.”


UN carves out sanctions exemptions for humanitarian aid

UN carves out sanctions exemptions for humanitarian aid
Updated 09 December 2022

UN carves out sanctions exemptions for humanitarian aid

UN carves out sanctions exemptions for humanitarian aid
  • The resolution applies to UN agencies as well as humanitarian organizations participating in UN humanitarian work
  • The text gained 14 votes in favor in the Council, with only India abstaining

UNITED NATIONS, United States: The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution on Friday to allow humanitarian aid to continue unhindered into countries targeted by UN sanctions, particularly frozen assets.
The text states that “payments of funds,” “economic resources” or “the provision of goods and services necessary to ensure the timely delivery of humanitarian assistance... are permitted and are not a violation of the asset freezes imposed by this Council.”
The resolution applies to UN agencies as well as humanitarian organizations participating in UN humanitarian work.
The humanitarian community has been calling for the Council to ensure that “unintentional, second-order impacts don’t impede their work,” said US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield. She said they wanted was a “clear, standard carve-out” for all UN sanctions regimes.
“And that is exactly what we are voting on today,” she said, adding that the resolution would “save lives.”
The text — which was also supported by several dozen states even outside the Security Council — gained 14 votes in favor in the Council, with only India abstaining.
“Our concerns emanate from proven instances of terrorist groups taking full advantage of such humanitarian carve-outs and making a mockery of sanctions regimes,” in particular those against the so-called Daesh group and Al-Qaeda, said India’s ambassador Ruchira Kamboj, who is heading the Council this month.
The resolution specifies that the exemption is only valid for two years for Al-Qaeda and IS.
“There have also been several cases of terrorist groups in our neighborhood, including those listed by this council, reincarnating themselves as humanitarian organizations and civil society groups precisely to evade the sanctions,” the Indian ambassador said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross hailed the vote as “an important day in the history of humanitarian action,” expressing hope that the new rule would mean “better services for communities, such as medical care, drilling of wells for clean drinking water, or visits to people detained in conflict.”
There are currently more than a dozen UN Security Council sanctions regimes involving North Korea, Libya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Taliban.
Last year, after the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Security Council implemented an exception for humanitarian aid to the war-torn country.


Indian PM’s party sweeps home state but ‘cakewalk’ unlikely in 2024 national vote

Indian PM’s party sweeps home state but ‘cakewalk’ unlikely in 2024 national vote
Updated 10 December 2022

Indian PM’s party sweeps home state but ‘cakewalk’ unlikely in 2024 national vote

Indian PM’s party sweeps home state but ‘cakewalk’ unlikely in 2024 national vote
  • Narendra Modi’s party won 156 seats in Gujarat’s 182-seat legislature on Thursday
  • National elections are due in 2024 when Modi is widely expected to run for a third term

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s victory in his home state Gujarat has shown a strong performance, but experts said on Friday that the win was not necessarily a trendsetter for the national vote that is less than two years away.

In its best-ever performance in the western state of around 60 million people, Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party on Thursday won 156 seats in Gujarat’s 182-seat legislature, up from 99.

The party has been ruling Gujarat since 1995, and Modi served as its chief minister for 12 years before becoming prime minister in 2014.

He was ruling the state in 2002, when 2,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed in the worst outbreaks of sectarian violence since the country’s independence.

If the opposition brings a robust agenda, you can see the mood of the nation change very fast. India is still an open society.

Prof. Ajay Gudavarthy, Analyst

After Thursday’s win, he took to Twitter to thank his voters, saying that he was “overcome with a lot of emotion” by the results.

Indian media have been projecting the victory as a litmus test for the 2024 general elections, when Modi is expected to seek the premiership for a third time.

The state election result was all the more remarkable, given his electorate has been frustrated by rising prices and unemployment.

“It’s a baffling victory in Gujarat given the government’s failure and poor human development index,” Prof. Ajay Gudavarthy of the Center of Political Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi told Arab News.

But the unexpected landslide win is no guarantee of victory in 2024, and the opposition still has time to mobilize.

“There is no cakewalk, and 2024 is still an open game,” Gudavarthy said. “If the opposition brings a robust agenda, you can see the mood of the nation change very fast. India is still an open society.”

Earlier this year, the BJP won big in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, which sends the most members to parliament. But the ruling party lost power to the opposition Congress in Himachal Pradesh, and to the Aam Aadmi Party in New Delhi, despite ruling the capital region for the past 15 years.

“There is a lot of discontent among people over the way the Modi government has been ruling the country. There is a problem with governance, unemployment is high and a large section of the population is suffering. In this situation, you cannot expect Modi to come back so easily,” Shashi Shekhar Singh, political science professor at Delhi University, told Arab News.

“The Unify India campaign of the opposition leader Rahul Gandhi is connecting with the masses, and I am sure it will impact the elections in 2024.”

But the opposition’s own fragmentation is what dealt a blow to its mobilization.
Television anchor and senior political commentator Urmilesh saw not only a “lack of unity” but also of a clear agenda among opposition parties.

It is to Modi’s advantage, he said, “if the opposition does not get their act together and channelize their energy to tap the prevalent discontent.”  

 

 


Italian lawmakers slam Iranian oppression against ‘freedom and democracy,’ calls on EU to act

Italian lawmakers slam Iranian oppression against ‘freedom and democracy,’ calls on EU to act
Updated 09 December 2022

Italian lawmakers slam Iranian oppression against ‘freedom and democracy,’ calls on EU to act

Italian lawmakers slam Iranian oppression against ‘freedom and democracy,’ calls on EU to act

ROME: Italian legislators have strongly condemned repression in Iran and called on the EU to act against “a regime which denies freedom and democracy.”

Members of all political parties from the Chamber of Deputies, along with senators, assembled in the Senate for a conference attended remotely by Maryam Rajavi, president of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Sen. Marco Scurria said: “It is a duty of the Italian Parliament to express support to the Iranians who have been courageously demonstrating against the regime which has already killed nearly 700 people, mostly young.

“We do not ask for Iran to become a Western country; we only call for the right of the self-determination of Iranian people.

“They have the right to enjoy their freedom and rights in a state based on the rule of law.”

Scurria added that the Speaker of the Senate Ignazio La Russa “expressed his support for this initiative.”

Sen. Giulio Maria Terzi di Sant’Agata, who chairs the EU Affairs Parliamentary Committee in the Senate, said that the EU and its member states “cannot keep on turning their face away from the tragedy which has been going on in Iran for too long.”

He added: “The EU must act now in a concrete way so that freedom and democracy are guaranteed in Iran.

“We fully support the work of the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran.

“Nobody must underestimate the regime’s capacity for violent repression.

“The regime that is responsible for infinite atrocities has killed 30,000 political prisoners. Its alliance with Moscow is even more nefarious.

“The revolt which has taken place following the killing of Mahsa Amini confirms how necessary the reaction of the people and the international community is against a regime which has activated a terrorist network in Europe, supported by its embassies.”

MPs Elisabetta Gardini and Luana Zanella expressed their support for Iranian women “who are paying the highest toll in the repression.”

Zanella added: “In Iran, women are excluded from human rights, and dozens of them are executed every year.

“As they are fighting a very difficult battle there, we have no other option but to be on their side.”

Rajavi said that in the past five years poverty in Iran “has increased threefold and so has the unemployment rate.”

She added: “Why does Europe appear unable to do anything to get rid of this regime?

“Apart from nice declarations, so far the European Union has had a condescending attitude toward the regime. The EU must take concrete action now.”