The World Today for February 21, 2023

NEED TO KNOW

Winter of Discontent

UNITED KINGDOM

The British press is invoking memories of Margaret Thatcher, the arch-conservative prime minister who fought coal mining unions and other workers’ groups in the 1980s, to describe the current labor unrest that is crippling the United Kingdom. British workers left their jobs for a total of 2.5 million days between June and December last year, according to government statistics cited by CNN. That was the highest number since the 4.1 million days lost in 1989 when Thatcher was in office.

While coal miners under Thatcher fought to prevent officials from closing their unprofitable mines, as Sky History explained, today British workers are taking to the streets to protest inadequate wage increases amid soaring inflation that has been hiking energy, food, and other costs. Inflation stood at 10 percent in January compared with a year earlier, the New York Times reported.

Tens of thousands of nurses, ambulance drivers, and other workers in the UK’s public National Health Service (NHS) recently staged the biggest strike in the service’s 75-year-old history. “The government needs to listen and discuss pay rather than just saying the NHS doesn’t have money,” nurse Ethna Vaughan told Reuters during a protest in London at St. Thomas’ Hospital. “We cannot survive with what we’re being paid.”

The strikes likely shaved off 0.5 percent in economic output in December, the BBC noted. But the country, while experiencing zero growth, has not yet dipped into a recession. Still, this winter of discontent has been a year in the making. The UK is the only major developed country whose economy is smaller now than before the coronavirus pandemic.

As Vox argued, the knock-on negative commercial and economic effects of the UK leaving the European Union, or Brexit; the coronavirus pandemic and its economic repercussions; energy cost increases due to the Russia-Ukraine war; and the recent hapless economic policies of Conservative governments under Liz Truss and current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have raised the ire of workers who are sick and tired of the country’s yawning gap between rich and poor.

The eloquent leader of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, Mick Lynch, has become the standard bearer for those who think that British elites failed to competently manage the economy while making out like bandits, and grappling with scandal after scandal, as this video from British media site JOE showed.

Sunak might now be considering whether he should cave in to the demands of nurses and others like Lynch who think their union members deserve more pay and benefits, Bloomberg wrote.

If that happens, many will ask why they had to wait for so long.

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