Cost-of-living crisis bites rich and poor nations alike

Published March 16, 2023
London: Trade union workers hold placards, flags and chant slogans during a protest outside Downing Street on Wednesday amid a dispute with the British government over pay.—AFP
London: Trade union workers hold placards, flags and chant slogans during a protest outside Downing Street on Wednesday amid a dispute with the British government over pay.—AFP

THOUSANDS of demonstrators around the world took to the streets on Wednesday to demand better living conditions at a time inflation is making it even tougher for people to make two ends meet.

The UK’s capital crippled when teachers, London Underground train drivers and civil servants joined striking doctors in a mass stoppage as Britain’s finance minister unveiled his tax and spending plans.

With hundreds of thousands walking out, it was expected to be the biggest single day of industrial action since a wave of unrest began last year.

From nurses to lawyers, workers hit by a cost-of-living crisis have been striking across the economy, pitting unions against the government which insists big pay hikes are unaffordable and will only fuel inflation.

Alongside salaries, which workers say have not kept up with inflation, other issues include conditions, job security and pensions. Other groups walking out included UK university staff and BBC journalists in England.

The strike by train staff in the Aslef and Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) unions in London left the entire Underground train network at a standstill. Government departments and the Border Force were also hit by a walk-out of an estimated 130,000 members of the PCS civil servants’ union.

Last-gasp garbage

Uncollected rubbish clogged streets in France’s capital as unions made an 11th-hour bid to stop a deeply unpopular pensions reform from being passed. Several demonstrations kicked off around France, including in the northern city of Calais and Bordeaux, in a new day of strikes and protests.

Police were expecting between 650,000 and 850,000 demonstrators nationwide, far fewer than the largest rallies last week. Walkouts appeared more limited than in previous days of nationwide action, but workers in some sectors stood steadfast in rejecting the changes.

The most visible impact of the standoff so far has been piles of trash on Paris streets, where municipal garbage collectors and cleaners have stopped work since early last week. Around 7,000 tonnes of rubbish have accumulated on pavements in around half the city, alarming foreign visitors and worrying restaurant owners.

Workers strike in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka deployed armed troops as trade unions crippled hospitals, ports and banks to protest against high-income taxes imposed as a precondition for a crucial IMF bailout.

Schools cancelled term tests and outpatient departments at hospitals closed due to the work stoppage that involved more than 40 trade unions. Fewer vehicles were seen on the roads.

Dockers at the main sea port in Colombo stayed away while air traffic controllers joined the combined industrial action to carry out “go slow” for two hours affecting at least 14 international flights.

“All considered, our work-to-rule was for two hours, but we will consider a full-blown strike if the government does not roll back the new tax rates,” Rajitha Seneviratne, secretary of the air traffic controllers’ association, said.

Armed soldiers were deployed at railway stations as well as the port as the government attempted tried to restore minimum services. Dock workers had a tense standoff with the military inside the port, but there were no reports of clashes.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2023

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