Britain faces a hot month ahead of Christmas with industrial action and disruption, with nurses likely to join postal, education and rail workers in a wave of strikes that will peak in the busiest weeks for office parties and holiday shopping.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is expected to announce unprecedented industrial action after a deadline set by ministers following a ballot over two weeks ago.
It is likely the first in a series of strikes by NHS workers, including junior doctors and ambulances, over the winter and into spring.
The expected move came as postal workers, university workers and Scottish schoolteachers went on strike on Thursday, while rail unions reaffirmed their plans for eight-day nationwide strikes despite a “positive” meeting with ministers.
Although unions said there were no plans for a general strike, several spoke of coordinating industrial action to maximize disruption and political impact. RMT leader Mick Lynch has called for a “wave of action” in favor of low-wage workers, a phrase echoed by TUC chief Frances O’Grady, although she said dubbing is not always necessarily the most effective strategy.
After meeting Transport Secretary Mark Harper on Thursday, Lynch said the minister had “started a dialogue” under recent predecessor Grant Shapps and “did up the bellicose nonsense.” .
However, Lynch ruled out calling off the eight-day strikes in December and January. He said: “If we call off the strikes, we will never reach an agreement… My members will not forgive me. I made a commitment – until we have a tangible result, the action will continue.”
Describing the meeting at the Department of Transport as “constructive,” Harper added: “An agreement needs to be reached and I believe we will get there – I want to help the RMT and employers reach an agreement and end the dispute in their favour.” of the traveling public.”
Harper is set to meet Train Drivers Union Aslef General Secretary Mick Whelan next week after another 24-hour strike by drivers this Saturday November 26 which will halt operations on routes across the UK.
Meanwhile, pickets erupted outside schools, universities and postal sorting centers on Thursday as the latest spate of industrial action began.
Up to 2.5 million students were expected to face disruption in what has been billed as the largest strike in the history of British higher education.
About 70,000 University and College Union (UCU) members, including faculty, librarians and researchers, began a 48-hour strike Thursday, with another one-day strike planned for next Wednesday over disputes over salaries, pensions and contracts.
Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, said: “Unless the university vice-chancellors get serious, our message is simple: this strike action will only be the beginning.”
Unison university administrators, cleaners, security and catering staff are also taking action against salaries at 19 universities.
In Scotland, schoolchildren stayed at home as teachers across the country staged their first nationwide pay strike in almost 40 years after dismissing the latest salary offer as an “insult”.
Few primary schools in Orkney and Shetland reopened as usual on Thursday as thousands of members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) took part in a day-long strike. Two more school strikes by other unions are planned for December.
Tens of thousands of members of the Communications Workers Union who work for Royal Mail also walked out on Thursday, in the first of 10 strike days before Christmas. Strikes are expected to affect deliveries from the main Black Friday shopping day this week, with the final action due to take place on Christmas Eve.
CWU general secretary Dave Ward said from a picket line in London yesterday that the Royal Mail is not paying overtime for overworked workers, accusing it of a “psychological assault”. The CWU has rejected an 18-month 9% wage deal, saying plans by Royal Mail to change working conditions would turn it into a ‘gig economy’ style employer.
The economic impact of the strikes remains uncertain, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), whose growth figures have previously estimated the impact of closures such as Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in September.
“There are many evictions that take place either before or after the strike days,” a spokesman said. The ONS has only recently started collecting data for strikes again after a pause during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the four months from June to September nearly three-quarters of a million days were lost to industrial action.
Although they are on track to be the highest numbers in more than a decade, they are much lower than the peak years of the strikes in the 1970s and 1980s. A total of 29 million days were lost to industrial action in 1979 – the year of the Winter of Discontent – and 27 million were lost during the year-long miners’ strike of 1984-85.