Half a million workers went on strike in Britain on Wednesday, demanding higher wages, closing schools and severely disrupting transport in the biggest strike in over a decade.
Europe faces a cost-of-living crisis, with the latest strike coming a day after more than 1.27 million people took to the streets in France, increasing pressure on the French government over plans to reform pensions.
The Trade Union Congress (TUC), Britain’s inclusive labor organisation, called the day “the biggest day of strike action since 2011”. Teachers and train drivers were among the latest groups to act, as well as border guards at British airports and seaports.
“We’re on strike because we’ve had substantial wage cuts for the last 10 years,” said Job Center worker and union representative Graham, who preferred not to reveal his last name.
“Some of our members have to visit food banks even though they work,” he told AFP.
“Not only are wages not keeping up, fares, city taxes, rents, etc. are going up. Everything we get is being eaten up.”
In the UK, tens of thousands of workers, including postal workers, lawyers, nurses and retail sector employees, have gone on strike for months as inflation in the UK tops 11%, the highest level in more than 40 years. have been witnessed.
– “There is no magic wand” –
At London’s King’s Cross station, 50-year-old philanthropist Kate Lewis said she sympathized with strikers, even though her train was delayed.
“Okay, we’re all in the same boat. We’re all subject to inflation,” she said.
But government and corporate bosses are adamant about wage demands.
With thousands of schools closed, Education Minister Gillian Keegan told Times Radio that she was “disappointed” that teachers had left.
Union boss Mark Serwodka said the government’s position was “unsustainable”.
“Today, with half a million cases, it is unrealistic for them to sit back and let the unprecedented amount of industrial action escalate,” he told Sky News.
“We’ll be paramedics and nurses and firefighters next week,” he added, warning that unions were ready to go on strike over the summer.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told public health officials on Monday, “Nothing gives me more joy than waving a magic wand and getting people to pay more.
“The key to tracking inflation and halving it is to make the government responsible for borrowing,” he said.
“It gets worse when it gets out of control. It’s about making wage payments reasonable and fair,” Mr Sunak added.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 1.6 million working days were lost due to strikes between June and November last year, according to the latest official data.
A total of 467,000 working days were lost to strikes in November alone, the highest level since 2011, according to the ONS.
Alongside the strikes, unions are also holding rallies across the country against the Conservative government’s plan to enact legislation against public sector strike action.
A nationwide protest organized by the TUC will assert that “the right to strike is a fundamental liberty in Britain,” said the group’s general secretary Paul Nowak.
Sunak has introduced a bill requiring some frontline workers to maintain a minimum service during strikes.
The prime minister defended the plan as “reasonable” and in line with other European countries.