In the UK, the social winter of anger

The British are in low spirits. The “Three Lions” beaten at the door of the semi-finals by France returned headlong from Qatar in a country paralyzed by strikes. Winter promises to be harsh across the Channel: freezing temperatures and a schedule of work stoppages not seen since the 1980s.

But what is surprising is the contagion in public services. After the trains that started the movement this summer, university professors followed in November. By Christmas, the railways will come to a standstill again as well as Royal Mail (the post office), more than 1,000 customs officers at airports for eight days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, buses, baggage handlers , paramedics, and the list is growing day by day. A socially hot winter for the conservative government of Rishi Sunak, which does not intend to give in to wage demands.

115,000 postal workers on strike

This December morning, the queue stretches into the only Royal Mail office still open in Southampton city centre. Already 115,000 postal workers stopped work as of December 9. In this town in the south of England, customers hope to still have a chance that their mail or parcels will arrive in time before the office closes.

“I think it’s best to send them to first class (a higher and supposedly faster rate, editor’s note)and they will comemaybe in time, wants to believe this elderly lady who is holding a whole pack of Christmas cards in her hand. Very calm, the post office employee does not disabuse her.

The great novelty of this social winter is the nurses’ strike. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), a union institution founded in 1916, whose godmother was Queen Elizabeth II, had never taken part in strike movements for 106 years. Praised for their courage during the pandemic, these men and women are now rebelling against the Conservative government, with the support of a large part of the population.

On December 15 and 20, some of the RCN’s more than 465,000 members will stop working in a number of parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, while maintaining a minimum emergency service and for services specializing in heavy processing.

“Brits discover their working poor”

Like all the other strikers, hospital staff are demanding a wage increase to compensate for inflation, which reached 11% in November – the highest for 41 years (1981). At the head of the RCN, Pat Cullen, 58, a Northern Irishwoman from a family of six daughters, five of whom embraced the profession with the idea of ​​serving the NHS, the public health service created in 1948, whose country was so proud. Facing her, the conservative Steve Barclay, Secretary of State for Health and Social Protection – whose father is himself a trade unionist – is in no hurry to start negotiations.

“We want negotiation, not confrontation”, generally say those who work in public hospitals. Pat Cullen warned the government: “Anger has become action, our members are saying, ‘Enough is enough.’ The strike is as much for the patients as it is for the nurses. » A YouGov poll, published the first week of December, shows that for the moment the British are overwhelmingly supporting the strikers.

“These strikes are unprecedented, analyzes Mark Farwell, doctor in political sociology at Solent University in Southampton. The British are discovering their working poor, people with jobs who can no longer live properly in this country. » The anger of the nursing staff, nurses or doctors, also relates to the state of decay of the public health system.

NHS weakened by Brexit

Recently, the case of an elderly man with cancer who, while gardening, broke his femoral neck and had to wait more than seven hours outside, protected by a tarp and covered with a sleeping bag, before being admitted to the nearest hospital, caused a scandal. The images of hospital corridors crammed with patients on stretchers, of ever-lengthening delays for the most benign operation push those who can afford it to turn to the private sector.

More than 7.2 million people in England are waiting for routine treatment, the highest figure since this data has been around. In November, 37,837 patients waited more than twelve hours to be admitted to hospital after the decision was made to hospitalize them.

“The NHS has become poorer because successive governments have underfunded it. Health has become a market », denounces Mark Farwell, who did his thesis on the evolution of the health system. Creeping privatization, with hospitals becoming independent institutions. “It has to be profitable, that’s why the wages are so lowcontinues the sociologist. The government justifies this privatization by an improvement in quality. However, the opposite is happening. »

Added to this was Brexit. “A disaster for the NHS”, adds Mark Farwell, because a large part of the nurses and doctors came from the east of the European Union. In England alone, the NHS must fill 130,000 positions, including 12,000 for hospital doctors and 47,000 for nurses.


The big strikes in the UK

1926. General strike, which opposes the British working world to employers and the conservative government of Stanley Baldwin.

January 9-February 28, 1972. Miners’ strike under the Conservative government of Edward Heath.

1984-1985. Miners strike under the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher against the National Coal Board’s plan to close 20 loss-making coal mines.

According to the British Confederation of Trade Unions (Trades Union Congress, TUC), employees have lost on average, and in real value, 20,000 pounds (around €23,230) between 2008 and 2021.


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