Many schools closed, trains at a standstill, ticket offices lowered in certain administrations… In the grip of an economic crisis fueled by inflation, the United Kingdom is experiencing Wednesday 1er February its day of strike on a scale unprecedented for a decade.
Up to half a million Britons are being called out to demand better wages. On the eve of the hundredth day of the conservative government of Rishi Sunak, the trade union federation TUC (Trades Union Congress – “Trade Union Congress”) warned that it would be “the biggest day of strikes since 2011” with, for the first time in several months of social movements, the participation of teachers.
Several thousand schools are notably closed at the call of the National Education Union (or NEU, for National Education Union) forcing parents, sometimes informed at the last moment, to stay at home to look after their children. Several parent-teacher organizations have issued a joint statement in which they say ” sustain “ the movement, falling “the consequences of years of underfunding” in schools.
Education Minister Gillian Keegan said to herself “disappointed” and “very worried” of this movement, and judged “economically incoherent” to grant the requested wage increases. “We said we would study future salaries, look at the workload and the flexibility that teachers ask for”as are the problems of recruiting teachers, she defended on Wednesday morning on Sky News.
In the early morning, London’s King’s Cross station, through which thousands of workers pass every day, was exceptionally quiet, with the strike of rail workers preventing many people from getting to their place of work.
Despite the Border Police strike, London’s Heathrow Airport is “fully operational” Wednesday morning, announced a spokesman, recalling that soldiers were deployed to make up for the absence of the strikers.
“Untenable position of the government”
“I really wouldn’t like anything so much (…) than having a magic wand and paying you all more”, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak assured Monday during a visit to workers in the health sector. But, according to him, wage increases would fuel inflation and further deteriorate public finances.
In all sectors, strikers are demanding wages in line with inflation, which has exceeded 10% for months, driving millions of Britons into poverty. And according to the latest forecasts from the International Monetary Fund, the country should be the only major economy to suffer a recession this year, with a contraction of 0.6% in its gross domestic product.
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The strikers also denounce the bill, the aim of which is to establish a minimum service in the event of walkouts in a multitude of public services. For the unions, this is an attack on the right to strike, a “frontal attack on workers and unions”.
The standoff also relates to working conditions, pensions, against the backdrop of a social movement that has been going on since the spring. For the month of November alone, the National Statistics Office counted 467,000 working days lost due to social conflicts, a figure unprecedented since 2011. Nearly a million days of strikes had been counted then. Since June 2022, 1.6 million working days have been “lost”.
If hopes for progress are perceptible in the rail, a new walkout is planned for Friday, while the firefighters voted in favor of a first strike in twenty years. Nurses and paramedics will also be on strike again in February. British customs officers stationed in France announced on Wednesday that they will be on strike during the February holidays. “The government’s position is untenable. It cannot sit on an unprecedented and growing strike movement”reacted the general secretary of the PCS (for Public and Commercial Services – “Public and commercial services”), the administration union, Mark Serwotka, on Sky News, calling on him to “a much more realistic attitude”.