UK, France plunged into mass strikes over livelihood issues, urged to ride China's recovery wave
Published: Feb 02, 2023 09:11 PM
A crowd of activists march along Whitehall during The Public and Commercial Services Union strike in London on February 2. Photo: VCG

A crowd of activists march along Whitehall during The Public and Commercial Services Union strike in London on February 2. Photo: VCG

The UK is being shaken by the biggest wave of strikes in more than a decade, with as many as half a million workers' discontent over pay and working conditions finally erupting after brewing for months. Meanwhile, widespread protests are also taking place on the other side of the English Channel, where protesters in France demonstrated their anger over President Emmanuel Macron's plans to raise the retirement age.

While a range of reasons, such as untamed inflation and deteriorating living conditions, are behind the rare strike in the UK, Chinese observers pointed out that Brexit, turmoil within political parties, and lack of strong leadership to bring the country back on track are what have put the UK in its current quandary.

Moreover, declining competitiveness and market share have left the UK feeling the pinch of deglobalization promoted by its close ally the US, while the Russia-Ukraine crisis has added insult to Europe's injury. With economic recovery widely anticipated in 2023, experts urged the UK and other European countries to ride this wave and stop acting as Washington's vassals, and instead expand rational, win-win cooperation with countries such as China for their own benefits.

In the UK, teachers, university staff, train drivers and civil servants - including staff checking passports at airports - are striking in large numbers over pay and working conditions, as living standards continue to plunge after years of below-inflation raises, CNN reported on Wednesday. 

The escalating strike action comes just weeks after the government tried to resolve pay disputes to bring an end to the worst wave of industrial unrest the country has seen in decades. Many public sector workers have been offered raises of 4-5 percent for the current financial year, with the annual rate of inflation running at 10.5 percent.

Such widespread strike action has not taken place since a dispute over public sector pay in 2011.

French President Emmanuel Macron's plan to raise the retirement age to 64 also prompted more than 1.27 million people to take part in street demonstrations across France, the Guardian reported. 

The French government has argued that the changes are crucial to guaranteeing the future financing of the pension system, which is forecast to tip into deficit in the next few years. 

Although the direct causes of UK and France's protests are different, they show that financial problems are eating deeply into Europe, said experts, noting that the situation may be more challenging for the UK.

Ever since it left the European Union, and with the Russia-Ukraine crisis adding insult to injury, the UK's social and economic development has hit huge buffers, with inflation hitting a 41-year-high in the latter half of this year, Gao Jian, director of the Center for British Studies at Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times on Thursday.

The UK is still in a head-spinning situation after its painful departure from the European Union, and is closely following the US in cracking down on China and fanning the flames between Russia and Ukraine, Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times, noting that none of those attempts has saved the UK from post-Brexit chaos. 

The IMF's new 2023 forecast on Monday evening saw the UK as the only "advanced economy" to contract, by 0.6 percent. This is 0.9 percentage points lower than its previous estimate.

With positive forecasts for the global economy widely anticipated this year, the UK and Europe should jump on the trend, discard the US-imposed unilateralist mentality, and seek win-win cooperation with countries such as China, while also contributing more to easing tensions between Russia and Ukraine, rather than fanning the flames, said experts.

Last month, the US and other NATO countries said they will ship a huge, wide-ranging package of heavy weapons to Ukraine, sending a clear signal that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is expected to escalate in the coming months.

Wang predicted that the UK and other European countries will become mired in the wave of strikes for the whole year, but the situation will be improved if the Russia-Ukraine crisis eases this year. "Also, major economies such as China and India may contribute to global economic prospects this year, so in the best case scenario, economic stagnation in Europe is expected to ease in the latter half of this year," Wang said.