With inflation reaching 10.5%, Britons from the education, mobility and health sectors, among others, stopped this Wednesday with the priority demand for a decent wage increase that addresses the country’s current economic poverty. This strike, in which more than 500,000 people participated, is an important test for the conservative government of Rishi Sunak, when the United Kingdom is also expected to be the only major economy in recession this 2023.
Economic and social conflict continues to grow in the UK. This Wednesday, February 1, the schools have remained closed, transport paralyzed and several government offices have continued the closure… The country is experiencing its first day of strike, coordinated between various sectors and of a magnitude not registered for more than one of each.
The economic crisis is at the origin of this unprecedented mobilization. Up to half a million people took to the streets to demand a salary increase that allows them to face inflation, which for months has exceeded 10%, which has pushed millions into a situation of poverty.
In the morning, London’s King’s Cross station, which is often used by thousands of people, was unusually quiet as a result of the rail strike; while Heathrow airport was operational despite the border police stoppage.
On the hundredth day of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government, the Trade Union Confederation (TUC) announced that it was the “biggest day of strikes since 2011” with, for the first time in months of union action, the participation of teachers and university staff. Thousands of schools remained closed following the call by the National Education Union (NEU), forcing some parents to stay home to care for their children.
A social movement supported by the British
This did not prevent various parent organizations from issuing a joint statement in which they expressed their “support” for the strike, pointing out “the consequences of years of low funding” in education. For this reason, the Minister of Education, Gillian Keegan, was shown on the Sky News television network “very concerned” and “disappointed” by the unemployment.
On the way to the rally, the workers received massive support, with applause and honking from passersby, motorists and bus drivers who passed them.
“I need more money,” Ciara O’Sullivan told AFP. This 38-year-old teacher admitted to the news agency that she had “difficulties paying the rent.”
Near an employment agency, Graham, also on strike, denounced the fact that more and more workers “have to go to food banks” to be able to eat.
For his part, Tony, a 61-year-old train conductor, told AFP that the government’s refusal to increase wages in line with inflation was “a slap in the face,” especially after the pandemic, when workers railwaymen continued to work.
The conservative government of Rishi Sunak declares itself impotent
According to the latest IMF forecasts, by 2023 the UK is likely to be the only major economy to suffer a recession, with its gross domestic product contracting by 0.6%.
“I would like nothing more … than to have a magic wand and pay everyone more,” the prime minister said during a visit to health workers on Monday. But, according to him, wage increases would fuel inflation and further deteriorate public finances.
In addition to wages in line with inflation, workers and unions in all sectors denounce what they see as an attack on the right to strike; a “frontal attack on workers and unions”. They criticize the bill presented in the House of Commons, which seeks to introduce minimum services in the event of a strike in public services.
Although Downing Street assured that the objective was not “to interfere with the right to strike, but to protect the public with a network of minimum services”, the project has been described by the unions as “anti-strike legislation”. Paul Nowak, general secretary of the TUC, called the bill “undemocratic, unenforceable and most likely illegal.”
In the UK, strikes have been going on for months. It is about salary, but also about working conditions and pensions.
Although there is hope of progress in the railway sector, this Friday a new strike is scheduled, which for the first time in 20 years the firefighters would join. Nurses and ambulance workers will also return to union action later this month.
“The government’s position is unsustainable. It cannot ignore a growing and unprecedented strike,” declared the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, Mark Serwotka, in ‘Sky News’, calling for “a much more realistic attitude “by the Executive.
With AFP and Reuters
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