“Is Britain's year of strikes headed for an uprising?” - There is no

“Is Britain’s year of strikes headed for an uprising?”

TEHRAN- That was a question posed by one of Britain’s most prominent and veteran political commentators Adam Boulton. With inflation surging to a decades-long record high, there are fears of coordinated national strike action among different unions representing millions of members, which could paralyze the country.

“Is Britain’s year of strikes headed for an uprising?” – There is no question about rising anger among workers in many sectors against the lack of government support to boost wages amid an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis.

As people struggle to make the difficult choice of heating their homes or putting food on the table this winter, there are no signs of industrial action easing any time soon.

The Ukraine war has strongly exacerbated both energy bills and the cost of food products purchased over the counter to prices that are simply unaffordable to millions of British households.

Over the past decade, strike action has frustrated the general public as walkouts quite naturally disrupt services.

On this occasion, the trend appears to be the opposite with people both acknowledging the hardship of workers and government inaction to financially compensate for rising inflation levels. The cost-of-living crisis is affecting the population as a whole.

In recent polls, around 60% of the public voiced their support for the current strikes, with between 24% and 33% opposing them.

The UK is by no means the only country being hit by waves of industrial protests. Countries across Europe and beyond have all recently been hit by national waves of cost-of-living strikes, but America saw the U.S. Congress pass a law to block a planned railway strike.

The UK Trades Union Congress (TUC), a federation representing 48 national trade unions in England and Wales with a total of about 5.5 million members held its annual conference in October and called for “a special working group of willing unions that would organize coordinated action over pay and terms and conditions where possible with all TUC unions, including further demonstrations, national and regional rallies, and coordinated industrial action where possible”.

One of the strongest signs, indicating the mounting anger in the UK, for the first time in history, the Royal College of Nursing will walk out on the 15 and 20 December across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland with more than 300,000 nurses set to strike.

It will be the latest industrial action in Britain, where decades-high inflation and a cost-of-living crisis have prompted staff in many sectors to demand pay rises to keep up with spiraling prices and cutbacks.

This is while 400,000 National Health Service (NHS) workers who are members of the country’s largest union UNISON are in the process of voting on strike action. The result is set to be announced in January with efforts of coordinated action with other unions.

The general secretary of UNISON Christina McAnea, says “coordinated action unites us, and we have a single goal: end this pay crisis in this country.”

Mick Lynch, currently leading the highest-profile strike by railway workers, has also voiced his support for coordinated strike action saying “I would support a general strike and coordinated action.”

Speaking to Reuters, the director of the Royal College of Nursing of England Patricia Marquis said “we haven’t had a decent pay (rise) for over a decade now and nurses work really hard, not just nurses, the NHS. We’re all under pressure at the moment. Everyone’s working their heads off, really, really difficult. So, it’s not just about clapping for us during the pandemic, I think we need to be respected and appreciated for what we do.”

Marquis highlighted the reasons behind nurses protesting en masse saying “the government really does need to listen. This is not something that nurses do at the drop of a hat. It’s not something that nursing staff has ever done across the whole of the UK in such huge numbers. So, it is significant and it should be sending a really clear message to the government that they need to do something.”

One NHS Nurse says “I’ve had to cut down on a lot of things with the kids, which I can’t afford to provide for them because of the high cost of living. So, it’s really, really tough for everyone, not just me, (also) my colleagues out there, you’ve got a few nurses leaving as well to go to work in supermarkets because they will be paid better.”

A senior fellow in health policy at the Nuffield Health Think Tank, Billy Palmer has warned there are a lot of people leaving the NHS because of “being under too much pressure” and adds that those who are considering leaving “often cite issues around not having enough staff to do a good job, for example. So, you’ve just got a pattern of work which is very challenging.”

The same Think Tank says there is a shortage of doctors as a result of Brexit and adds that to rising waiting lists for medical treatment which spells a crisis for the British national health sector.

As Boulton points out, this has unquestionably been a year of strikes, with 560,00 working days lost in August and September – almost twice the total for whole years recently – and industrial actions still mounting. This has raised the same question among many as to whether the country is heading for a general strike.

The Royal College of Midwives is also consulting its members. So are the junior doctors in the British Medical Association.

70,000 in the University and College Lecturers union walked out this week.

115,000 postal workers in the Communications workers’ union are continuing strikes from November into December.

400,000 teachers and support staff in the NASUWT – National Education Union are holding a strike ballot, with the result due in the new year. The separate Scottish teacher’s union is already taking action.

100,000 civil servants in the Public and Commercial Services Union have voted heavily for industrial action.

There are also disputes involving airline ground staff in the GMB, some dockworkers, London bus drivers, British Telecom, and Outreach staff amongst others.

These are just some of the protests across the UK, but all the disputes have the same root cause, UK inflation is now running at 11%.

Sharon Graham, general secretary of UNITE – one of the biggest unions – told Sky News “If there are a number of strikes happening at the same time, people can call it what they like, quite frankly.”

Boulton notes that heading into this winter, the UK is facing its biggest wave of strikes for at least a decade, involving action by more than a million workers in the public sector led by the major trade unions. He asks if these powerful calls for “synchronized action” mean the UK will soon plunge into a “general strike” to match the historic General Strike which took place just under a century ago in May 1926.

2022 will go down as a year of strikes.

According to Sky News, some 560,00 working days were lost in August and September – almost twice the total for whole years recently – and industrial actions are mounting.

In pursuit of their pay claim, 40,000 members of the RMT union have announced more one-day strikes over the Christmas period on 13, 14, 16, and 17 of December, and 3, 4, 6, and 7 January 2023. There will also be an overtime ban in the weeks in between. Train drivers in ASLEF plan strike for other days.

The unions want above-inflation pay to combat the cost-of-living crisis. Already, they point out, their members’ earnings have declined in real terms, and are now worth what they were in 2008.

Meanwhile, other media outlets have reported more big picket lines across the country as tens of thousands of university workers took action for two days. Around 70,000 UCU union members walked out over pay, pensions, and conditions—and plan to again this week.

Other strike actions that also collude the data by Sky News and other protests have been reported as follows:

• 26 November: 9,500 Aslef union train drivers at 12 companies

• 30 November: 115,000 CWU union members at Royal Mail, 70,000 UCU union members, and 4,000 NEU union members at sixth-form colleges

• 1 December: 115,000 Royal Mail workers

• 7 December: Members of the SSTA secondary school teachers’ union and NASUWT teachers’ union members in Scotland

• 8 December: Members of the SSTA secondary school teachers’ union and NASUWT teachers’ union members in Scotland

• 9 December: 115,000 Royal Mail workers

• 11 December: 115,000 Royal Mail workers

• 13 December: 40,000 RMT union rail workers at Network Rail and 14 Companies

• 14 December: 40,000 rail workers, 115,000 Royal Mail workers

• 15 December: 115,000 Royal Mail workers, RCN nurses’ union (details of NHS trusts tbc)

• 16 December: 40,000 rail workers

• 17 December: 40,000 rail workers

• 20 December: RCN nurses’ union (details of NHS trusts tbc)

• 23 December: 115,000 Royal Mail workers

• 24 December: 115,000 Royal Mail workers

2023

• 3 January: 40,000 rail workers

• 4 January: 40,000 rail workers

• 6 January: 40,000 rail workers

• 7 January: 40,000 rail workers

• 10 January: EIS Scottish teachers’ union members (primary schools, primary special schools and mixed primary/secondary special schools, and early years’ teachers). 50,000 workers out across the two days.

• 11 January: EIS Scottish teachers’ union members (secondary schools and secondary special schools)

Workers at the University of East London picket line were angry at how the ruling Conservative party and bosses run universities as businesses. Striker Jean-Paul said managers are more obsessed with targets, assessments, and “employability”, rather than actual education.

“The bosses are much more interested in how the university is seen to be performing. They want to get good feedback on, for example, the National Student Survey and recruit as many students as possible.

On picket lines across Britain, strikers made it clear that unions should strike together. UEL striker Maeve told Socialist Worker, “I think it’s fantastic that workers from different sectors are coming together and showing solidarity.

“I was at the CWU picket lines earlier this morning, and I was pleased to see that the RCN has announced their strike days.”

She added, “It’s government policy that has got us here today. The first round of austerity was horrendous, and the second round will be intolerable, so coming together and striking is essential.”

Amid a lack of government action over the rising cost-of-living crisis, activists are strongly pushing union leaders to unite together across the country and take coordinated industrial action to make their voices heard.

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