Around one and a half million Britons have gone on holiday since the start of December, so much so that Daily Telegraph was able to talk about the “holiday arrival calendar”. It is the largest strike movement since the late 1970s.
Reasons for anger
Mark Lenormand reminds us that the movement was essentially formed around wage demands. “Starting with the Great Financial Crisis of 2007, the past decade has seen a decline in wages in both the private and public sectors in the UK.“. This was followed by austerity policies implemented by conservative governments since 2010. This is inflation, which is now over 11%, and yet it has acted as a trigger for a social crisis, with the purchasing power of many already dangerously low. caused a drop in households.
In addition to these economic factors, a growing sense of injustice and “observation of widening inequalities” according to Thibaud Harrois : the withdrawal of public services, the difficulty of access to care… Those who cannot afford to apply for private services thus suffer from evasion of education. “Yes, there is growing inequality in the UK knowing that things were not rosy when the Tories came to power 12 years ago. But there is a sense and a reality that things are much more difficult for a large part of the British population today.”
An unprecedented situation in the UK
While this winter is regularly compared to the famous “winter of discontent” that swept through Great Britain in 1978-1979, when Margaret Thatcher launched her campaign in 1979, there are many differences between the two movements. Mark Lenormand specifically mentionsIn the 1980s and 1990s, Conservative governments severely restricted the ability of British workers to strike. Thus, one strikes only through one’s union, and that union must consult all its members and obtain a majority vote to strike in order to authorize a strike; then state very precisely the conditions under which this will occur“. Despite this restrictive legal framework and these institutional obstacles, the fact that the current strike movement continues on such a scale speaks to its importance: “One would almost think that after 40 years of neutralization of trade unionism and neoliberal restructuring of the economy in the UK, social conflict would have died down for good. However, we have seen a resurgence since last winter. Even the British economy, sector by sector, company by company, is gradually passing holiday wave.”
Another feature of these strike movements is that despite the paralysis of society and the economy (especially in the particularly vulnerable sectors of health and transport), they are generally supported by the British population. “There are many holidays with very strong public support, particularly health holidays: it seems two-thirds of Britons have shown support for the movement” (Thibaud Harrois).
The flexibility of the Conservative government
Faced with the strikers, Rishi Sunak’s government refuses to negotiate, perhaps waiting for the movement to die out. Mark Lenormand highlights the difference between strikes affecting the private sector and strikes affecting the public sector in that their first interlocutor is the government: Rishi Sunak must give”promises of intransigence on the trade union movement to show that he is a Conservative prime minister worthy of succeeding Margaret Thatcher.”
Although it is difficult to measure the impact of Brexit on the crisis that the country is experiencing today, Thibaud Harrois claim”What is certain is that instead of finding a solution, as some had hoped, Brexit has come to intensify the crisis situation in which the United Kingdom finds itself.“.
The sometimes unpleasant communication of the government was able to inflame the tension and strengthen the feeling of the ruling elite, disconnected from the realities of the population. Rishi Sunak seems to be caught in the crossfire as we are told Thibaud Harrois : “You have to show that the Conservatives can evolve and maybe listen to what has happened since the last election, post-Brexit. And at the same time, he has to deliver on his party promises.”
The prospect of 2024 general elections
for Mark LenormandThe situation in the United Kingdom shows howa party, including the party in power, can remain outside the aspirations of all sections of society.” A situation that will benefit Labor at the next general election in 2024? Undoubtedly, however labor party Nor does it represent the aspirations of strikers and trade unions: far from being conducive to mobilisation, Keir Starmer’s party “in turn, it refocused and tried to present itself as a business entity“.
A political chessboard whose balances have been largely redistributed and which suggests that new turns are yet to come.