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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Strike in Britain – massive industrial action across the country

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It is not just a single strike – the industrial action in the UK covers the whole country and many sectors. The outstanding payments are likely to peak this Wednesday.

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It is the biggest strike in decades – and with this industrial action, the “winter of resentment” in Great Britain has reached its temporary climax. According to estimates, half a million employees in numerous sectors want to stop working this Wednesday. Above all, they are demonstrating for significantly higher wage increases, but also for better working conditions – and for the right to strike per se. Seven unions called on their members to take industrial action and coordinated the national day of protest. A standstill is looming in large parts of the United Kingdom. Downing Street warned of “significant disruption”.

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Teachers and train drivers, university lecturers and government employees, bus drivers and security forces are now on strike at the same time. The dissatisfaction is enormous in all sectors. Further walkouts have already been announced for the coming days, on Monday and Tuesday, for example, again by the nursing staff of the NHS health service. Another headache for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s conservative government is likely to be that firefighters recently voted to go on strike. The strikers are primarily united by their demand for an inflation-based increase in their wages. Consumer prices have recently risen by a good ten percent.

One reason for the strike: real wages have fallen by 23 percent since 2010

For example, the government is offering teachers five percent more wages. Far too little, the NEW teachers’ union complained and emphasized: “It’s not about a salary increase, but about correcting historical cuts in real wages.” Real wages have fallen by 23 percent since 2010, and many teachers are leaving the job because of poor pay – which increases the pressure on those who stay even more. In England and Wales, an estimated 120,000 teachers now want to stop work for a day. About 23,000 schools remain closed.

The teachers will be joined by tens of thousands of employees from 150 universities, as well as train drivers from 14 private rail companies. There are also around 100,000 public sector employees from 124 different government agencies, as well as driving school examiners.

The government refuses renegotiations. Prime Minister Sunak emphasized that his door is always open for negotiations. However, this does not seem to apply to salary talks. The 42-year-old has repeatedly warned that an increase in line with inflation would only fuel the “vicious cycle” of ever-rising consumer prices.

Controversial plan: Restrict the right to strike

The displeasure of the employees is fueled by a controversial government project. Sunak and his business secretary, Grant Shapps, have had enough of the constant labor disputes since last summer and now want to pass legislation restricting the right to strike. Strict restrictions should then apply to police officers, firefighters, NHS workers or railway staff. Sunak argues that this should ensure basic services.

“People are not free to choose when they need an ambulance or the fire brigade,” Shapps justified his draft, which offers a fair balance between the right to strike and the needs of the population. On Monday, the Tories-dominated House of Commons passed the bill on a third reading. But resistance is expected in the upper house. The unions in particular have sharply criticized the plans.

The project was “undemocratic, unfeasible and almost certainly illegal,” complained the general secretary of the union federation TUC, Paul Nowak. The unions have declared the day of the major strike as “Protect the right to strike” day. Dozens of protests are planned across the country. The opposition also warns that the law would mean that workers would have to fear losing their jobs. Labor Vice-President Angela Rayner calls the law the “Fire the nurses draft” – and apparently hits a nerve. In polls, a majority supports the strikers. In the eyes of many, the government is to blame for the chaos.

Ruling Tories are becoming less popular

While in the past the Conservatives have repeatedly been able to blame the Labor Party, which is closely linked to the unions, for the consequences of the strikes, observers believe that this approach no longer works. Too many people are themselves affected by rising energy and food prices. “Because of the cost-of-living crisis, these strikes can no longer be portrayed as ideology-driven,” James Frayne of the Public First consultancy told the online portal Politico.

Rather, the government’s perceived stubbornness is weighing on its poll numbers. Labor has been in the lead for months, and there is no sign of a reversal. As of now, the Tories should fear a debacle in the parliamentary elections planned for 2024.

Nevertheless: Sunak will not give in, my party colleagues. Rather, the prime minister gets their backing from them. “We have to keep our nerves,” Politico quoted a Tory MP as saying. Inflation will soon continue to fall, so the pressure on consumers will decrease. “That’s why we have to stay as tough as possible.”

See the historical photo series from our archive: The worst winter smog incident in Europe happened at the end of 1952: the “Great Smog” in London killed more than 8,000 people within a few days.

Source: Stern

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