Employees in front of the entrances to the Waterloo underground station in London on August 18, 2022, the day of the strike (AFP / CARLOS JASSO)
The United Kingdom knows from Thursday a new salvo of massive walkouts in transport, post, ports, the biggest strike movement for decades continuing since the beginning of the summer in the face of inflation which devours the British purchasing power.
In the middle of school holidays, only one train in five was circulating Thursday in the country. Tens of thousands of rail workers were called to stop work by the RMT, TSSA and Unite unions, and Network Rail, the public network manager, urged users to avoid this mode of transport.
The passengers who defied the injunction were nevertheless understanding, while the general price increases, which exceeded 10% last month across the Channel for the first time in more than 40 years, devalue the wages of the British.
“I’m going to be very late, that’s for sure,” admits AFP Usama Sarda, a dentist in his thirties, who is going to a wedding in the north of the country from London’s Euston station. . But the strike “is right, because inflation is currently at an all-time high,” he said.
Railway workers “are people like me”, abounds Greg Ellwood, a 26-year-old consultant crossed at Leeds station, in the north of England. “We are all trying to make a living and get by. I have all the sympathy in the world for them,” he says.
The biggest rail strike movement since 1989, at the end of the Thatcher years, could “go on indefinitely”, warns the general secretary of the RMT, Mick Lynch on Thursday, with walkouts by railway workers continuing in episodes since June, for lack of salary agreement.
– ‘Basically underpaid’ –
“British workers are fundamentally underpaid”, adds the trade unionist, for whom the movement “will not be broken” and could on the contrary extend to “every sector of the economy”.
In fact, movements are multiplying in the country. On Friday, the entire London transport network will be almost paralyzed, and will remain very disrupted throughout the weekend while another day of train strike is scheduled for Saturday.
Although the strike does not directly involve the staff of Eurostar, the train that uses the Channel Tunnel, the operator has also had to reduce the number of its services due to the reduction in timetables on all british lines
Waterloo station in London on August 18, 2022 strike day (AFP / CARLOS JASSO)
On Sunday, dockers at the port of Felixstowe (east of England) – the largest for freight in the country – start an eight-day strike, threatening to shut down much of the country’s freight traffic.
Postal workers, employees of the telecom operator BT, Amazon handlers, but also criminal lawyers or garbage collectors have also walked out or plan to do so.
The movements could last beyond the summer, and spread to civil servants in education or even health, where Unite has tackled “miserable” salary offers of 4%.
Everywhere the watchword is the same: employees are demanding increases in their pay in line with inflation, which reached 10.1% in July over one year and could exceed 13% in October.
– Ukraine, Covid and Brexit –
Prices are driven in particular by gas prices, on which the country is very dependent and which are soaring in the wake of the war in Ukraine, but also by disruptions in supply chains and shortages of workers in the wake of Covid- 19 and Brexit.
Purchasing power is being eroded by price increases at record speed, which “demonstrates the vital need (…) to defend the value of workers’ compensation”, assures in a press release Sharon Graham, general secretary of the Unite union, one of the main ones in the country.
Currants for sale at Borough Market in London on August 17, 2022 (AFP / CARLOS JASSO)
However, some strikes have recently been avoided at the last minute, following satisfactory compensation offers, notably in a refueling company at Heathrow airport or among the ground staff of British Airways.
In rail, negotiations with the multitude of private operators in the sector are deadlocked, according to the unions, which also rejected an 8% salary offer from Network Rail, which they accuse of being conditional on massive layoffs.
The Minister of Transport, Grant Shapps, who refused to get directly involved in the discussions, is singled out by the organizations, accused of not giving sufficient mandate to the companies to negotiate.
Another reason for union anger: the government has just amended the law to allow the use of temporary workers to replace strikers.