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UK Half Million Strikes: Cost Of Living Crisis Intensifies

Half a million people stopped working on wages in Britain on Wednesday, leaving transport networks crippled and thousands of classrooms empty in the biggest walkout for more than a decade.

As Europe struggles with a cost of living crisis, UK trade union organization the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has called it the “biggest day of strike action since 2011”.

The latest round of shutdowns comes a day after more than 1.27 million people took to the streets in France, increasing pressure on the French government over pension reform plans.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called for pay rises to be “reasonable” and affordable”, warning that steep pay rises would undermine attempts to bring inflation under control.

But unions have accused millionaire Sunak of being out of touch with the challenges facing ordinary workers struggling to make ends meet in the face of low-paid, precarious work and rising costs.

Teachers and train drivers were among the latest groups to take action, along with Border Force personnel at British air and sea ports.

The NEU teachers’ union estimated that 85 per cent of schools in England and Wales had been hit by walkouts, adding that this indicated the “level of anger” in the profession.

“The workload is always getting bigger and with inflation our salary is getting lower and lower,” said London teacher Nigel Adams, 57. AFP as he joined thousands of teachers marching through central London.

“We are exhausted. We pay the price and so do the children,” he added as protesters held up signs reading “Pay Up” and “We can’t put your kids first if you put their teachers last.”

“A Slap in The Face”

Britain has witnessed months of strikes by tens of thousands of workers – including postal staff, lawyers, nurses and retail workers – as UK inflation soared 11%, the highest level in over 40 years.

Job center worker and union representative Graham, who preferred not to give his surname, said workers had no choice but to strike in the face of soaring costs.

“Some of our members, even though they are working, still have to go to food banks,” he said.

The capital’s stations were deserted or completely closed.

At the closed station in London Bridge, a major suburban centre, a train conductor who called himself Tony, 61, said the type of pay rises on offer were insulting, particularly following the pandemic.

“We have been working through Covid. We were hired as key workers and then there’s this slap in the face,’ he said.

“I would leave (home) at 3 a.m. to go to work. People were having barbecues, we could hear the bottles. I think we deserve a pay rise that keeps up with inflation.

Combative RMT union leader Mick Lynch, who represents many railway workers, said teachers who marched through London to parliament “every worker needs a pay rise, every worker needs a square deal … We demand change”.

Meanwhile, NEU teachers’ union leaders Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney have warned schools will be hit by more strikes unless the government comes up with “concrete and meaningful proposals”.

Inflation “The Biggest Risk”

Government and business bosses, however, remain firm on wage demands.

Education Minister Gillian Keegan told Times Radio she was “disappointed” the teachers came out.

But Mark Serwotka, head of PCS, the biggest union in the civil service, said the government’s position was “untenable”.

“There’s no way they can sit with this unprecedented amount of growing industrial action because it’s half a million today,” he told Sky News.

“Next week we have paramedics, and we have nurses, and then it will be firefighters,” he added, warning that the unions were ready to strike all summer.

Asked what Prime Minister Sunak was doing to resolve the strikes, his official spokesman said inflation remains the “biggest risk” to pay packages and that the government was ready to continue talks with unions to avoid new strikes.

But he said ministers needed to balance union demands with the need not to fuel inflation further and be fair to all taxpayers.

National Gatherings

The latest official data shows that 1.6 million working days were lost from June to November last year due to strikes – the highest six-month total in more than three decades – according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

A total of 467,000 working days were lost due to walkouts in November alone, the highest level since 2011, the ONS added.

Alongside the strikes, unions have also held rallies across the country against the Conservative government’s plans to legislate against public sector strikes.

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