03 February 2023

The rise of the striking worker?

The gilets jaunes have been fashionable for the French in recent times, a country that has built a reputation for striking. Last month, president Macron’s retirement reform plan angered even larger swathes of the French workforce than normal – and led the yellow jackets into the country’s biggest strike in decades. Workers from all walks of life caused disruption on January 19th throughout the country.

Currently, there is a pension deficit in France and the government claims that the continuation of its extremely complicated system will eventually lead to a rise in taxes to keep outward payments the same. The new plan outlined by Macron is set to save the government €17.7bn (£19bn) a year by 2030. However, it has not gone over well with the French public due to the retirement age likely increasing from 62 to 64.

We have been experiencing similar sentiments across the channel, where bus and ambulance drivers, teachers/lecturers, driving examiners, nurses, and Royal Mail workers have all taken industrial action. 

Just why has everyone been striking? 

Striking is not a new phenomenon – workers have been taking a form of action since Ancient Egypt – but the sheer volume of strikes is leaving Britain on the cusp of widespread unrest.

Disputes have cut across pay rates, excessive workloads and unacceptable working conditions. The longest running and hardest-hitting strikes have been from the Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT), with their general secretary Mick Lynch extremely vocal about the problems that these workers are experiencing. 

His sentiments fall under the inequality that the country faces and how “while executives and the rich make millions, our members are being asked to accept substandard pay offers and the ripping up of their hard fought terms and conditions during an escalating cost of living crisis.”

Network Rail Chief Executive, Tim Shoveller, had already stated in November that 1,850 maintenance jobs will be “voluntarily” severed by the employees themselves. Also, a survey shows that 37,000 police officers are at “crisis point.” 

Perhaps this shows that the strikes are not working, and with the government’s new ‘anti-strike’ legislation there seems to be punishment for future industrial action. The new Minimum Service Levels Bill will grant the government powers to set ‘minimum service levels’ for six key public services: health, fire and rescue, education, transport, decommissioning of nuclear installations, and border security. Additionally, this will remove striking workers’ protections that were laid out in the 1992 Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, imposing stricter rules on any further action. 

Currently the country is experiencing disruption at the hand of the displeased employees, whilst unpleasant conditions are being targeted picket by picket. All eyes are on the British government on how they will deal with this crisis throughout this year. However, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak already seems to be erring on the side of a combative approach to the action.