In the United Kingdom, union renewal driven by wage disputes

No security at the entrance, an almost empty press room and delegates who are almost surprised that we are interested in them: organized in Brighton (south-east of England) from October 18 to 20, the annual congress of the British Federation of Trade Unions (Trades Union Congress, TUC, bringing together 48 unions and 5.5 million workers) looked sad. The impression is misleading: journalists were stuck in London on the lookout for a government on the verge of imploding – with Prime Minister Liz Truss finally stepping down on October 20. And, above all, the trade unionists were very busy on the ground preparing for the next strikes.

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Because after being broken almost forty years ago by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, then long marginalized by the media and politicians, the labor movement is raising its head. Membership is on the rise and, in recent months, work stoppages have multiplied, in the public and private sectors, with unprecedented frequency. “People are fed up, they feel they are being treated unfairly,” raises Daisy Carter, 26 years old, professor of mathematics in the south-west of England, ready to make the first strike of her career at the call of the union NEU (National Education Union).

Up to 300,000 nurses are also being polled by their main union, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), for the first time since its inception in 1916. The midwives’ union, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM ), is also consulting its members with a view to work stoppages for the second time since its founding in 1881. On the transport side, the RMT union has rarely been so mobilized: its members have been on strike since the summer and again walk off the 5 , 7 and 9 November. The CWU, the Post and Telecommunications Union, has also been coordinating go-slows since the summer at Royal Mail – another strike is scheduled for November 12. “Since the beginning of the action, there will have been nineteen days of strike at Royal Mail. These are rotating work stoppages, one day it’s distribution, the other processing or trucks because we could not financially hold so many strike days in a row, ” says Andy Mason, 49, postman and member of the CWU.

An era of austerity

At the heart of the demands, wage increases, while inflation reached 10.1% in September and average wages have stagnated for a decade, a consequence of the era of austerity initiated in 2010 by the Cameron government. According to figures from the TUC, between 2008 and 2021, employees have lost on average and in real value 20,000 pounds sterling (about 23,230 euros), their salaries not having increased in line with inflation. Faced with energy prices that have doubled and food prices that have jumped 14% over one year, living decently with these salaries becomes difficult. According to the NASUWT, a teachers’ union calling like the NEU for the strike, 72% of British teachers have reduced their food expenditure due to the cost of living.

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