Many schools closed, trains stopped, ticket offices reduced in some departments… On Wednesday, the UK saw its biggest day of strikes in a decade, in the face of massive inflation that has fueled the economic crisis.
On the day after a day of social mobilization in France against pension reform and on the eve of Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s first 100 days in power, up to half a million Britons are called to strike to demand better wages. The TUC union federation warned it would be “the biggest strike day since 2011” with teachers taking part for the first time in several months of social movements.
“We are on strike because our real wages have fallen over the last 10 years,” Graham exasperated as he stood in a picket line in London at an employment agency.
Early in the morning, London’s Kings Cross Station, through which thousands of workers pass each day, was exceptionally quiet, as the railwaymen’s strike prevented many people from going to their workplaces.
“I want to go to Leeds, but there is no direct train,” worries Edward, 45, a tech company executive. While Kate Lewis, a 50-year-old philanthropist, considers herself “lucky” to be able to rely on a train to get home.
She says she “understands” the strikers. “We are all in the same boat. They are all affected by inflation.”
Notably several thousand schools have closed at the urging of the NEU teachers union, forcing parents, sometimes tipped off at the last minute, to stay home to take care of their children.
Like social movements relatively supported by public opinion, several parent organizations published a joint declaration saying they “support” the movement, citing the “consequences of years of underfunding” in schools.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said she was “disappointed” and “extremely concerned” about the move, and considered it “economically inconsistent” to grant the required salary increases.
“We said we would look at salaries in the future, and we would look at the workload and flexibility that teachers require,” as well as the problems of hiring teachers, she defended Wednesday morning on Sky News.
no “magic wand”
Despite the Border Police strike, London’s Heathrow airport was “fully operational” on Wednesday morning, a spokesman said, recalling that soldiers had been deployed to make up for the absence of the strikers.
“I really love nothing (…) more than having a magic wand and paying more money,” said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday during a visit to health workers. But according to him, wage increases would fuel inflation and further damage public finances.
Strikers in all sectors are demanding wages in line with inflation, which has been running at more than 10% for months, pushing millions of Britons into poverty.
And according to the latest International Monetary Fund forecasts, the country should be the only major economy in recession this year, with a contraction of 0.6% of GDP.
The confrontation is also related to working conditions and pensions or the government’s desire to limit the right to strike and the TUC is organizing several rallies on Wednesday in the country to defend it.
The movement has been going on since spring. Since last June, 1.6 million working days have been “lost”, according to the Office for National Statistics.
If hopes of progress are to be seen on the railways, a new strike is scheduled for Friday, while firefighters voted in favor of the first strike in twenty years. Nurses and paramedics will also strike again in February.
British customs officers stationed in France announced on Wednesday that they would go on strike over the February holiday.
The government’s position is untenable. Reacting to an unprecedented and growing strike movement, PCS management union general secretary Mark Sirotka has responded on Sky News, calling for a “more pragmatic stance”.
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