France and Britain face nationwide strikes

World Today

It was dubbed “Walkout Wednesday,” a joint strike that galvanized hundreds of thousands of teachers, civil servants and train drivers from across Great Britain to protest low pay and demand higher wages.

Tuesday’s walkout was Great Britain’s largest coordinated joint strike to take place in over a decade.

According to reports, the coordinated strike saw the participation of up to 500,000 people, including as many as 300,000 teachers and 100,000 civil servants.

The massive walkout was not received well by the Conservative Party, the British Parliament’s majority, as the head of the government and fellow Tory Prime Minister Rishi Sunak slammed the strikes. 

“I am clear that our children’s education is precious and they deserve to be in school today being taught,” Sunak said, pointing out that millions of British school children were unable to attend classes because of the walkout. 

“And actually, the party opposite [Labour] would do well to say that strikes are wrong and we should be backing our school children,” he added.

Sunak’s young government has taken a hard stance against unions with their refusal to give in to the demands of the workers.

The new Premier argues that giving in to union demands would only worsen the inflation that has plagued Great Britain and the rest of Europe.

However, while Sunak refuses to yield, those participating in the nationwide walkout believe their cause is just and imperative moving forward.

“Since 2010, we’ve had pay freezes and below inflation pay rises – so we are all feeling the pinch with the cost of living crisis,” the National Education Union representative, Carla Nicholson, told the BBC on Tuesday.

Meanwhile in nearby France, over one million people took to the streets to protest the French government’s decision to raise the retirement from 62 to 64.

According to reports, the French government deployed more than 11,000 police officers to monitor the protest, as the large demonstration resulted in the disruption of the educational sector, public transport and oil refineries.

Similar to their NATO partner Great Britain, the French government is refusing to budge to the demands of the people.

Instead, the French Labor Minister Oliver Dussopt argues that keeping the retirement age the same will only lead to economic problems in the future. 

“If we do not go to 64, the pension system will not break even,” Dussopt said, stipulating that “what is not negotiable is the issue of returning to break-even.”

Dussopt was moved by the protesters, however, pointing out that they have a right to demonstrate.

“I believe in rolling strikes. The government is trying to minimize the discontent. The prime minister and the president are leading us to it. They are playing the tug of war,” he told France Inter radio.

Given the government’s response, it’s unlikely the demonstrations will lead to a reconsideration of the pension age change.