An estimated half a million workers across various sectors in the United Kingdom went on strike on Wednesday, resulting in the largest industrial action in over a decade. The strikes included teachers, civil servants, train and bus drivers, border officials, and university staff who are demanding better pay and working conditions in the face of rising inflation and energy prices. These difficulties may have been exacerbated by Brexit, as suggested by a recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast.
According to the National Education Union’s joint general secretary, Kevin Courtney, the government has been underfunding schools and underpaying its employees. Approximately 85% of schools across the country were either fully or partially closed due to the strikes, leaving thousands of parents struggling to find alternative childcare options or adjusting their own work schedules.
The strikes, which have been ongoing for several months, have brought public services to a halt and disrupted emergency care, among other things. Although nurses and ambulance workers did not strike on Wednesday, they plan to return to picket lines in the near future.
The inflation rate in the UK has reached its highest levels in 40 years, standing at 10.5% as of Wednesday. The IMF predicted that the UK will be the only major economy to contract this year, performing worse even than Russia, which is still under heavy international sanctions. The recent IMF forecast predicts a contraction of 0.6% in the British economy. Although the IMF did not directly link its prediction to Brexit, the UK’s trade has decreased and many EU workers have left the country since the exit, causing a labor shortage that other European nations have not had to contend with.
Public sector workers have reported decreased salaries in real terms over the last decade and rising inflation has caused financial difficulties, forcing some to rely on food banks. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has taken a hardline stance against the strikes, stating that some of the pay increases being demanded are not affordable for the government. Union leaders, on the other hand, claim that the government has not offered anything substantial enough to cancel the strikes.
Paul Nowak, the leader of a national federation of trade unions, emphasized that the strikes will not stop until meaningful change is achieved. He stated that the government must understand that the strikes will not magically disappear and that the problems will persist unless addressed. The message from the strikes is clear: public sector workers deserve better pay and working conditions and the government must take action to address these issues.