News ID: 113452
Publish Date : 15 March 2023 - 22:05

Hundreds of Thousands Strike in UK, France

LONDON/PARIS (AFP) – Teachers, London Underground train drivers and civil servants joined striking doctors Wednesday in a mass stoppage as Britain’s finance minister unveiled his tax and spending plans.
With hundreds of thousands of walking out, it was expected to be the biggest single day of industrial action since a wave of unrest began last year.
From nurses to lawyers, workers hit by a cost-of-living crisis have been striking across the economy, pitting unions against the government which insists big pay hikes are unaffordable and will only fuel inflation.
Alongside salaries, which workers say have not kept up with inflation, other issues include conditions, job security and pensions.
Other groups walking out Wednesday included UK university staff and BBC journalists in England.
The strike by train staff in the Aslef and Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) unions in London left the entire Underground train network at a standstill.
Government departments and the Border Force were also hit by a walk-out of an estimated 130,000 members of the PCS civil servants’ union.
PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said it was a scandal that some of those administering government services were now so poorly paid they were forced to rely on handouts themselves.
The spiraling strikes could no longer be ignored, he added.
“Doctors are on strike in our hospitals, train drivers are on strike. Teachers are on strike. I believe that for the first time in years, opinion polls show there’s a lot of support for strikes,” he told AFP.
As Hunt delivered his budget plan to parliament, hundreds of striking civil servants marched near Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Downing Street office chanting “What do we want?, 10 percent, when do we want it? Now!”
Civil Service project manager Ben Millis, 25, said the country was witnessing an “amazing wave of activism”.
“Prices of everything have increased so much, and it’s the longest pay freeze... since pretty much pay records began,” he told AFP as marchers blew whistles and banged drums.
“I think people are really starting to feel that something has to change and we need to get organized,” he said.
The latest stoppage by teachers -- a two-day strike starting Wednesday -- was expected to affect every school in England.
Emmanuel Adebayo, 36, who teaches at an east London primary, said he had always dreamed of being a teacher.
But he said conditions were currently “really poor” and often it was children with special needs and other vulnerable pupils who suffered as a result.
“I have considered leaving teaching but I love my job. That’s why I’m here today, to make sure that things are better for other teachers to come,” he said at a huge gathering of striking teachers in central London.
National Education Union leaders Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney earlier threatened to step up their action if the government failed to put “money on the table”.
“If they don’t our action will escalate,” they said in a joint statement.
“Shamefully, ministers don’t seem interested in giving their own employees a fair pay rise to help them through the cost-of-living crisis and beyond.”
UK hospital doctors in England on Monday launched a three-day stoppage claiming some were paid less than coffee shop workers.
The British Medical Association which represents junior doctors says they have suffered the equivalent of a 26 percent cut to their pay since 2008-09.
Another Day of 
Strikes in France
France faced another day of strikes on Wednesday over highly contested pension reforms which President Emmanuel Macron appears on the verge of pushing through despite months of protests.
As the legislation enters the final stretch in parliament, trade unions made another attempt to pressure the government and lawmakers into rejecting the proposed hike in the retirement age to 64.
The most visible impact of the standoff so far has been the accumulation of rubbish in the streets of Paris, where garbage collectors and street cleaners have stopped work.
The main suspense is whether Macron’s minority government can muster the required number of votes in the lower parliament, where it will need the support of the opposition Republicans party (LR) in order to pass the legislation.
A joint vote from the lower National Assembly and the Senate could come as early as Thursday.
Macron’s flagship proposal would raise the minimum retirement
 age from its current level of 62 to 64, bringing France more into line with its EU neighbors, most of which have pushed back the retirement age to 65 or higher. 
The law also hikes the requirements for a full pension and would abolish the retirement privileges enjoyed by some public-sector employees, such as those at the Paris Metro.
After initially claiming it was intended to make the system fairer, the government now emphasizes that it is about savings and avoiding deficits in the coming decades.
Opinion polls show that around two-thirds of French people are against the legislation.
If Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne fails to find a workable majority in the lower house, she could use a constitutional power contained in article 49.3 of the constitution, enabling her to ram the legislation through without a vote.
Analysts say this would deprive her and Macron of democratic legitimacy in the face of hostile public opinion and would also expose the government to a confidence vote, which it might lose.