Many workers across the UK are struggling with double-digit inflation. Thus, they are taking action to ask for better pay and working conditions. Due to the strikes, Britain faces widespread industrial unrest during the Christmas holiday (Reuters). Workers are fighting for jobs, better wages and pensions, and against layoffs. With the ongoing and worsening cost of living crisis, these conditions are at the forefront of everyday life as people are struggling to make ends meet. UK general strikes in winter can contribute to the government’s decision to improve pay and working conditions.
Different unions in UK general strikes in winter
Workers from many jobs are going on strike across the UK. As the Guardian says, nurses, ambulance workers, railway staff, bus drivers, and postal workers have voted yes to strike action. Teachers and civil servants are awaiting the results of the ballots. Many are public sector workers. Others provide essential services like transporting cash or conducting driving exams. Similarly, Big Issue says teachers, healthcare workers, transport workers and civil servants will strike in December. Hundreds of thousands of workers will join picket lines by Christmas if the government does not intervene with a better pay offer.
Time of UK general strikes in winter
According to the Guardian, most of the strike dates are for December. The strike action is peaking in the two weeks before Christmas. The last general strike in the UK happened in 1926. when 1.5 million private sector workers stopped their work. Unions have seen their freedom to take such action limited by parliament over the last century. However, some union leaders say they are coordinating efforts for maximum impact. Almost 100 years after the last general strike, some 1.5 million workers could again be on picket lines by Christmas.
Law of strikes
As the Guardian says, ballots for industrial action in England, Wales and Scotland must have at least a 50% turnout. Then the majority must vote yes for the action to be lawful. Therefore, if 100 workers are eligible to vote, and just 49 turn out the vote, workers cannot take action even if all 49 voting in favour.
David Cameron’s government amended the rules in 2016 to cover turnouts in public services in England and Scotland. Public sector workers must meet an additional 40% support threshold among all workers who are eligible to vote. If 100 “important” public services workers are eligible to vote, at least 50 must fill in a ballot form. Moreover, at least 40 of them must vote in favour.
General strike in May 1926
Similar to UK general strikes in winter, a general strike happened in Britain in May 1926. According to Big Issue, the TUC called a general strike in May 1926 to defend 1.2 million miners. Owners of some of the UK’s biggest mines wanted that their employees work more hours for less money. The miners opposed this, which led to them being locked out of the mines where they worked. The TUC called a general strike after two days of stalemate. The strike aimed to make the government prevent mine owners from reducing wages and increasing shift hours.
As it says in Britannica, when the miners went on strike (May 4, 1926), sympathetic strikes in other vital industries supported them. Then Baldwin proclaimed a state of emergency. He organized volunteers to maintain essential services. He refused to negotiate further with labour until the strike was called off (it ended May 12, 1926)
In the same line, Sky News says that 1.2 million miners opposed wage reductions and worse contracts. Negotiations between the unions, employers and outside advisors broke down. Printing, rail transport, dock, and iron and steelworkers joined the General Strike to support the miners. At its height, some 1.75 million workers were on strike. However, Middle-class volunteers acted as strikebreakers, apparently to preserve essential services. The TUC General Council called off the General Strike after nine days. The miners lost and had to accept longer working hours and lower wages.
Government’s cruelty to Strikers
UK general strikes in winter can lead to further cruelty to strikers. As Big Issue says, Britain faces major walkouts in primary industries every day until Christmas. This can lead many to fear that the country will stop working this festive season. Industrial disputes are at their highest level in five years. The cost of living is rising. Three in four Brits are worried about the increased cost of food. One in six now relies on food banks to get by. Many Brits ask for a pay rise to counteract the record’s most significant drop in living standards. The government recently pushed through plans to let companies bring in workers to replace striking workers. The government’s plans are against the trade union legislation.
To sum up, the government’s plan to bring in agency workers to replace striking workers is cruel to strikers. The program is similar to the general strike in May 1926. Moreover, the government endangers public safety by bringing in agency workers who are not well-trained to do the jobs. The government must stop being cruel to strikers and careless about people’s safety. The government must improve pay and working conditions in response to UK general strikes in winter.