“What is striking is the scale of the movement, but also the number of companies in which the workers voted to strike” in the United Kingdom, analyzes Marc Lenormand, professor of English studies and British civilization at Paul Valéry University, a specialist in social movements and the history of British trade unionism.
The proliferation of strikes returns, particularly in transport, against inflation and for salary increases, in the United Kingdom, a movement that is already historic as they are the first strikes “for twenty, thirty, even forty years” depending on the sector, highlights Marc Lenormand.
franceinfo: Is this a movement of historic proportions?
marc lenormand : What is historical in this movement are the sectors on strike. During the last thirty years, the main strikes in the UK have mainly affected the public sector, mainly against austerity policies. This was the case, for example, during what was called “the winter of discontent” in 1978-1979. What is special today is to see private sectors, sometimes industrial, on strike, which has not been the case depending on the sector for twenty, thirty, even forty years. For example, an eight-day strike begins tomorrow at the country’s main container port. And this is the first time since 1989 that there will be a strike in this port. On the railways, this is the first national strike since 1994. What is striking is the magnitude of the movement, but also the number of companies in which the workers voted in favor of the strike.
Strikes are relatively rare in the UK, are they considered extreme actions? As a sign of a very difficult situation?
It is above all something very complicated to implement. In France, the right to strike is enshrined in the Constitution. This is not the case in the UK as Conservative governments introduced an extremely restrictive framework in the 1980s and 1990s. That means that today, to go on strike, the union organizations have to carry out a long campaign with their affiliates, to organize a ballot paper and that ballot paper vote mostly in favor of the strike. There are even higher thresholds in certain sectors since in transport not only at least half of the members consulted are needed, but also 40% of the electorate, that is, of all the workers likely to go on strike.
Is this a sign of a very deep malaise among British workers?
What is quite remarkable is that, in fact, in these consultations there are very high participation rates, often over 80%. This was the case on the railway, at the docks, for example. And the votes in favor of the strike exceeded 90%: in the postal sector, 98% of postal workers voted in favor of the strike. So it does show a determination, and certainly a situation where a large number of workers feel that it is imperative to take action to get wage increases. Because we know that inflation in the UK will top 13% this year, and nearly two-thirds of British households may not be able to pay their energy bills this winter.
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