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Adam Boulton: Is Britain’s year of strikes headed for an uprising? | Politics News

At this year’s Trades Union Congress (TUC), union leaders representing 5.5 million members called for “a special working group of willing unions that will organize coordinated action on wages, terms and conditions where possible with all TUC unions, including more demonstrations, national and regional marches, and coordinated industrial action where possible.”

Mick Lynch, who is currently driving The largest strike by railway workersHe declared: “I will support a general strike and concerted action.”

In response to a question on Sky News about a general strike“If there are a number of strikes happening at the same time, people can call it whatever they like, quite frankly,” Sharon Graham, general secretary of UNITE – one of the largest unions – told Sophie Ridge.

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As this winter approaches, the UK faces its biggest wave of strikes in at least a decade, involving action by more than a million public sector workers led by major trade unions.

Do these strong calls for “simultaneous action” mean that the UK will soon plunge into a “general strike” to match the historic general strike of just under a century earlier in May 1926?

Only the general council of the TUC can call a general strike, and union bosses sit on the council.

However, for all the rhetoric so far, there is significant practical reluctance to escalate industrial measures in multiple sectors in what could turn into a formal confrontation with the government.

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UK strikes: what does the data show?

From Nurses to Teachers: The Year of the Strike

Come any other date, 2022 will be a year of strikes.

About 560,000 working days are lost in August and September – nearly twice the total number in full years recently – and industrial action is increasing.

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

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For the first time ever and after voting yes on the ballot, The Royal College of Nursing announces the strike of more than 300,000 nurses. And 400,000 NHS workers at UNISON are currently voting to strike, with the outcome due in January.

“Coordinated action unites us, and we have one goal: to end the wage crisis in this country,” UNISON Secretary General Christina McNea said recently.

• The Royal College of Midwives also consults with its members. So do junior doctors in the British Medical Association (BMA).

• 70,000 students withdrew from the University and College Lecturers Union (ULU) this week

• 115,000 postal workers in the Telecom Workers’ Union continued their strike from November to December

• 400,000 teachers and support staff at the NASUWT – National Education Union (NEU) are holding a strike ballot, with the result due in the new year. The separate Scottish Teachers’ Union is already taking action

• 100,000 civil servants in the Confederation of Public and Commercial Services (PCS) voted massively for industrial action

• There are also disputes involving GMB ground line staff, some dock workers and London, BT and Outreach bus drivers among others

Read more:
Keep track of all this winter’s strikes

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The union president has “positive” talks with the government

Different strokes, same reason

All of these controversies have the same root cause: UK inflation is now running at 11%.

Unions want compensation payments above inflation to combat the cost of living crisis. They have already indicated that their members’ earnings have fallen in real terms, and are now on par with what they were in 2008.

Fourteen years is the longest wage slump in modern times. If they are to catch up in real terms, wage bonuses should be 15% or more.

Private sector workers are currently settling for increases below inflation averaging 6%, but many public sector employers haven’t matched that with their offers yet.

Secondary complaints by unions include protests over what they see as the privatization of public services and proposed changes to labor practices that they believe will negatively affect the conditions of those involved.

Employers often want strings demanding a change in labor practices to be attached to potential wage bonuses.

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Postal workers ‘don’t want to be on strike’

What history tells us about general strikes

The demand for more wages to avoid being left behind and against poor working conditions were also the central grievances of the 1926 general strike, albeit in a more explicit form.

Then, 1.2 million miners in the privately owned (but strategically vital and government-watched) coal industry were shut down after opposing wage cuts and worse contracts. In the end, negotiations between unions, employers, and outside consultants broke down.

Railway, transport, printing, dock, and iron and steel workers joined the general strike in support of the miners’ demand “not a penny of wages, not a minute a day.”

At its height, about 1.75 million workers were on strike.

The Conservative government under Stanley Baldwin was well prepared for the strike. Special constables were recruited to ensure the “maintenance of supplies”, although the then-Chancellor Winston Churchill’s proposal to deploy armed forces was rejected.

Middle-class volunteers acted as strikebreakers, ostensibly to maintain essential services.

Nine days later, the TUC General Council called off the general strike. The miners lost out and had to accept longer hours and lower wages.

The coal industry continued to decline, which was continued all the way through the complete nationalization of the miners’ strike of 1984-1985 during Mrs. Thatcher’s premiership.

Historians say the general strike must be seen in the context of real fears of revolution in the aftermath of the Communist takeover of Russia a few years earlier. The Labor Party was only establishing itself as a government party and then, as now, did not fully support strikes.

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Unreasonable wage increase

Sonak’s less confrontational approach

This did not stop Rishi Sunak from repeatedly asking Sir Keir Starmer to tell the Labor Party’s “salary unionists” to call off the strikes.

In practice, Sunak’s government appears to be taking a less confrontational approach than his immediate predecessors.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper has agreed to meet with the RMT. Mick Lynch described their encounter as “positive”, although he said he was no closer to calling off the Christmas strikes.

Society is less polarized about strikes now than it was in 1926. The Conservative government may have changed the law to allow railway companies to bring in agency workers to keep services running, but they have so far refused to do so, even if such replacement workers were readily available.

There was no NHS in 1926. The centrality of public health workers to current conflicts has increased public sympathy. After a renewed dispute with the health workers in 1982, Mrs. Thatcher won re-election and then awarded the nurses an annual bonus of up to 14%.

In opinion polls, about 60% support the current strikes, while between 24% and 33% oppose them. But less than half agree that wage bonuses should be as big as unions demand.

RMT risks losing public sympathy with its strikes that disrupt Christmas celebrations, including “Black Friday,” the biggest day in the office and work parties.

After coronavirus wiped out birthday celebrations twice, London’s hospitality industry alone believes the disruption will cost it around £300m, with the national bill estimated at around £1.2bn. Media veteran Mick Lynch has been forced to deny being “The Grinch” on national television.

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In these trying times, the UK is by no means the only country experiencing waves of industrial protests. South Korea, Bolivia, Portugal, Greece, Italy and France have recently been hit by national waves of strikes over the cost of living.

The US Congress passed a law to prevent a planned rail strike.

However, membership of organized trade unions is declining. The unions lost the general strike of 1926. Since then, most governments have taken steps to weaken the effectiveness of mass action.

In this country, most of the citizens and workers fall in the middle and suffer the consequences without direct intervention.

A class confrontation or coordinated “uprising” as Mick Lynch had hoped is unlikely.

Instead, the continuation of widespread and sporadic disruption is becoming almost certain in the coming months. Individual disputes will eventually be settled above what the employers and government say they can afford, but below what the strikers demand.

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