Published On: Wed, Feb 1st, 2023

Day of disruption in U.K. as up to half a million join ‘walkout Wednesday’

Inflation in the U.K. stands at 10.5%, the highest in 40 years, driven by skyrocketing food and energy costs. While some expect price rises to slow down this year, Britain’s economic outlook remains grim. On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund said that Britain will be the only major economy to contract this year, performing worse even than sanction-hit Russia.

The National Education Union said some 23,000 schools will be affected Wednesday, with an estimated 85% fully or partially closed. Others also on strike range from museum workers and London bus drivers to coastguards and border officials manning passport control booths at airports.

“It’s everybody out … of course there’s going to be some disruption and some queues,” Phil Douglas, director-general of Border Force, told reporters.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers union ASLEF, said the government must now listen to workers’ demands.

“Everybody knows somebody working somewhere that’s out on strike, about to go on strike or being balloted for strike action,” he said. “Quite simply, the government has now got to listen — the people in this country are speaking, and they’re speaking volumes that they want a cost-of-living increase.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office acknowledged that Wednesday’s wave of walkouts will cause “significant disruption” to people, and maintained that “negotiations rather than picket lines are the right approach.” But union leaders say the government has refused to negotiate and offer enough to halt the strikes.

Unions have also been angered by the government’s plans to introduce a new law aiming to curb strike disruptions by enforcing minimum service levels in key sectors, including health and transport.

Lawmakers on Monday backed the bill, which has been criticized by the unions as an attack on the right to strike.

On Wednesday thousands of people are expected to take part in protests against the bill in London and other cities.

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