Strikes paralyze France and UK

February 1, 2023 - 22:44

TEHRAN- As NATO members – France and Britain - spend fortunes on the Ukraine war, workers at home bear the brunt and this has triggered mass protests and strikes.

The second round of industrial action in France has brought the country to a standstill. 

According to unions and organizers of the protests, the first round of industrial action and protests in January against the government's pension reform plans saw the participation of two million people.

The second round on the last day of January also saw a million-man march across the country.

As France and other countries spend a fortune on Ukraine, it's the people back home that are footing the bill for the expenses. 

The government of Emmanuel Macron has targeted pensioners, who are among the most vulnerable in society, with its plans to raise the retirement age.

That has been met with anger as French protesters and striking workers say the government doesn't care about the common people. 

All major French trade unions joined hands in a show of unity.

Analysts say if the government did, it would go and target the Bank of France, the legislature, and the President's office who are the real enemies.

The only movement that resonates with the people, including the top 30% percent who are supposedly doing well is the Yellow Vest because they care about everybody in society.

The government has defended its pension reform plans with the government's finance minister Bruno Le Maire saying it is the best way to ensure prosperity and protect the French people.

Le Maire added the strikes over the unpopular plan to raise the retirement age are unlikely to affect the French economy because France has a low inflation rate and its economy is doing well.

This is while official data suggests the opposite with consumers struggling to cope amid surging inflation.

The hundreds of thousands of people who have taken part in street demonstrations across France joined transport, schools, and the energy sector which was hit by strike action. Local buses, trains, and trams in numerous cities, as well as regional and high-speed trains across the country, were “very significantly disrupted”.

According to the main teachers’ union about half of all school teachers went on strike as Air France said short and medium-haul services have been disrupted. 

Many town halls across the country have also closed in a show of solidarity. 

These are some of the biggest demonstrations over pension changes in France's history.

The socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, accused the government of “shamefaced lies” for arguing that pension change was necessary.

Philippe Martinez of the CGT union said that “the government has lost the ideological battle,” adding that the turnout in small towns and villages showed that “politicians should listen to the people”.

Polls show that a majority of French people disapprove of Macron’s plan to raise the pension age to 64, with most people voicing support for the protests. 

The government claims that changes to the pension system are necessary but opponents and trade unions say the system is currently balanced, pointing out that the head of the independent pensions advisory council just recently told parliament that “pension spending is not out of control, it’s relatively contained”.

That puts the timing of the reforms under the spotlight as France will be sending tanks to Ukraine in an effort to expand its military aid. 

At the same time, it is refusing to listen to the millions of people on the streets demanding they work more to pay more taxes to the government's coffers.

Across the channel in the UK, another NATO member heavily involved in the Ukraine war braced for the biggest day of industrial action in over a decade on Wednesday when teachers, university lecturers, train drivers, civil servants, bus drivers, and security guards walked out on the same day.

The British government conceded that the mass strike action will be "very difficult".

Ambulance workers are the latest to join a very long list of public sector workers to go on strike. 

Unison, one of the UK's largest trade unions has announced that thousands of ambulance workers in England will walk out on 10 February over pay following double-digit inflation amid the Ukraine war that has seen waves of industrial action from different sectors resort to strike action. 

The latest industrial unrest by ambulance workers has taken the British government off guard with Downing Street saying it is "deeply concerning".

Strikes will now be taking place across the National Health Service (NHS) almost every day next week.

The PM's official spokesperson said the government is planning to mitigate the disruption "but first and foremost we would ask the unions to reconsider that approach and continue discussions (overpay)."

Announcing the latest strike action, Unison urged ministers to stop "pretending the strikes will simply go away" and improve ambulance workers' pay.

This follows the first strike action by NHS nurses in British history.

The union also warned that unless the government has a "major rethink" over NHS pay, and gets involved in "actual talks" with unions, it will announce strike dates running into March.

"The government must stop playing games. [Prime Minister] Rishi Sunak wants the public to believe ministers are doing all they can to resolve the dispute. They're not," the union's head of health Sara Gorton said.

"There are no pay talks, and the prime minister must stop trying to hoodwink the public. It's time for some honesty. Ministers are doing precisely nothing to end the dispute.

"The government's tactics seem to be to dig in, wait months for the pay review body report, and hope the dispute goes away. It won't. And in the meantime, staff will carry on quitting, and patients being let down.

"There can be no health service without the staff to run it. Ministers must open proper talks to end the dispute and put in place the urgent retention plan needed to boost pay and staffing across the NHS."

The latest strike announcement comes as members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) voted overwhelmingly in favor of action in a ballot result announced earlier this week.

If they do go ahead, the strikes will be the first nationwide fire strikes over pay since 2003.

The FBU says it has given the government ten days to make an improved pay offer. 

This is while the National Education Union (NEU) has accused the government of having "squandered" the chance to avoid a walk-out in schools in England and Wales after talks with the Education Ministry broke up without agreement.

The British Medical Association which is the country's biggest doctors' union has indicated plans for consultants and around 45,000 junior doctors to go ahead with possible strikes as well.

The NHS is already struggling to cope with the effects of the most widespread industrial action in its history.

However, British media polls show that support for trade unions is rising even though strike action brings disruption to public services. 

Industrial actions are at their highest level since the 1980s, with the UK having lost more than a million working days to strikes last year.

Despite this, sympathy for striking public sector workers has risen over the past couple of months, with the public acknowledging how much of a positive role these workers play in society.

Data by the YouGov pollster shows that NHS striking workers bring the strongest support from the public.

Despite this, the British government appears to be showing zero sympathies for workers whose pay growth is nowhere near the double-digit inflation hitting the UK.

Instead, the British government, rather than engaging with the people who keep the country running, is pushing through legislation that will make it harder for unions to take strike action.

The UK is seeing record levels of strike action as ambulance workers, nurses, transport workers, and teachers take a stand against the inflation crisis. 

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “[our] members want the government to focus its efforts on fixing the pay crisis and solving the legitimate disputes that have led to recent strike action. Only then will the crises in our public services start to be solved.

“Instead, the government is attacking workers and making it even harder for them to win fair pay.”

Workers in the UK as well as the rest of Western Europe have paid the price for NATO instigating the war in Ukraine.

The war has led to record inflation levels led by an energy crisis after the West imposed sanctions on Russian gas supplies, which accounted for 40% of Europe's energy needs.

Experts say the expansion of the U.S.-led NATO military alliance to Russian borders in a bid to contain Russia triggered the Ukraine war.

Yet the Russian economy appears to be performing well, with the UK, a leading NATO member that has fueled the Ukraine war, expected to be hit worse than Russia.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), this year the British economy will fare worse than any other country in the developed world - including Russia.

In its latest report, the IMF says the UK economy would face a downgrade "reflecting tighter fiscal and monetary policies and financial conditions and still-high energy retail prices weighing on household budgets."

The UK had previously been forecast to grow by 0.3% this year and 0.6% next year.

Now, the IMF says it should expect a -0.6% drop this year.

This is what happens when a country's foreign policymakers take measures without carefully thinking about the future consequences of their actions.

While Ukraine is just the latest case under the spotlight, other examples include the disastrous 20-year invasion and occupation of Afghanistan as well as the war on Iraq, Syria and Libya that saw significant rise in terrorism

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