The UK at an impasse

DEmpty stations, scarce subways, canceled medical appointments and untraceable ambulances. Not since the Thatcher years had the United Kingdom seen a wave of strikes of such magnitude, to the point that the reference to a new “winter of discontent”, an expression of Shakespearean inspiration which designates the massive strikes of 1978-1979, is ubiquitous. More than 1 million British workers in total must stop work by the end of the year, in a relay movement started on December 12 intended to satisfy wage demands, in the face of inflation which has high in November at 10.7% over one year (6.2% in France).

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In addition to the railway workers, postmen, customs officers, baggage handlers, there are the nurses of the National Health Service (NHS) – on strike for the first time since they were organized –, probably waiting for junior doctors and teachers in January. The conflict, fueled by the accelerated stall between prices and wages, is part of a context marked by more than ten years of drastic austerity under conservative governments which have eroded incomes, in particular those of public sector employees. Over the past two years alone, their purchasing power has fallen by 7.7%.

If the scale of the movement and the firmness of the government evoke the era of the Iron Lady, the context is very different. The government of Rishi Sunak is in a situation of great political weakness, after the series of scandals and crises which marked the end of the Boris Johnson era, the country is suffering from a considerable shortage of labor ( 133,000 vacancies including 47,000 for nurses in the NHS alone), opinion is rather benevolent towards the strikers and the Covid experience has popularized state intervention.

Most unequal country in Western Europe

To the deep movement of anger among the British especially renowned for their endurance and their phlegm, Rishi Sunak opposes firmness. He refuses to give in to demands for wage catch-up, agitates the threat of an intervention of the army to replace the ambulance drivers and of a bill imposing a minimum service in transport. He tries to mount public opinion against strikers accused of organizing the ” chaos as Christmas approaches.

Read also: In the United Kingdom, where inflation is exploding, nearly 100,000 nurses on strike to demand a rise in wages

As the United Kingdom, which has become the most unequal country in Western Europe, sinks into recession, as 3 million Britons struggle to pay their energy bills and food banks multiply, the London government seems braced on an ideology that advocates a minimal State, tends to make the disadvantaged responsible for their fate and to favor the haves, while showing itself powerless to limit the impact of inflation.

The British Conservatives are also prisoners of their miraculous but chimerical promises on Brexit. Instead of the prosperity, sovereignty and international outreach they claimed to bring by breaking with their neighbors, they only reaped the slowdown in their exports, the depreciation of the pound sterling, the worst growth forecasts of countries developed outside of Russia, and diplomatic isolation. To the immediate need to engage in serious negotiations aimed at breaking the impasse of a social conflict in which the dignity and purchasing power of many Britons are at stake, is added the need to seek a project capable of giving back to these last of the prospects and a place on the European continent.

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