British Strike Wave Approaches General Strike Levels

British rail workers strike along with many other unions. | Photo:

By Gerry Scopppettuolo, January 18, 2023

Since Britain’s Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) went on strike last June a torrent of working-class anger throughout the United Kingdom has been unleashed that today resembles a general strike across many industrial sectors.

The Trade Union Congress (similar to the U.S. AFL-CIO) fully backs the RMT which is a member of the World Federation of Trade Unions, the progressive/socialist global labor federation representing 100 million union members and internationals from Bangladesh and Vietnam to Italy and Greece,

The RMT and its 45,000 members have launched days-long rolling strikes across the UK. In December 100,000  nurses in England, Northern Ireland and Wales also walked out over salary and staffing shortages. Nurses, represented by the Royal College of Nurses Union (RCN), had never gone on strike before this month. At the same time, 115,00 postal workers were on strike for a week. The British Postal service was sold off and privatized in 2013. At this moment 45,000 teachers are on strike in Scotland and 20, 000 ambulance drivers have just gone out. 100,000 unionized Government workers will be going out on strike on Feb 1. London bus drivers have engaged in intermittent strikes and today (January11) ambulance drivers have also initiated rolling strikes.

Under pressure from the private sector, the Conservative government in Parliament is seeking to pass a so-called “minimum hours” law which would require workers in certain industries to provide minimum hours of work, ostensibly to keep essential services running, essentially a forced labor tactic. The introduction of this proposal last week seems to have increased strike activity as workers thus far show no signs of backing down with literally tens of thousands joining the strike wave every day. An historic confrontation between labor and the state is looming with predictions of up to a million strikers hitting the bricks by Feb 2 when, as announced by its executive board, the RCN will be sending  300,000 more nurses out on strike.

Overriding issues of health and safety and an official inflation rate of 12% are driving desperate workers to stay out and picket in freezing temperatures. British railway workers are required to work a mandatory 7-day workweek, the kind of unsafe and grueling schedule they share with their sisters and brothers in the U.S. where engineers and signalmen in the 110,000 members union workforce toil with no guaranteed sick days.  The Biden administration attempted to crush an impending strike with a tentative agreement that was rejected by the rank and file, leaving a stalemate.  Massive nursing vacancies in the UK.  have led to intolerable nurse-patient ratios in British hospitals, stretching out labor just as in the U.S..

If, as it appears likely, labor will defy the new minimum hours’ law if it passes parliament, there may be a replay of the national Coal and Railroad strike initiated by the Trade Union Congress in 1926 after the British capitalists locked out 1.7 million striking miners and the British Government organized a massive scab recruitment campaign, directed by Chancellor of the Exchequer, Winston Churchill….

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