Strikes in Europe: The Reasons and Outcomes
Writer: Ava Kwok
Editor: Radhiah Auni
Researcher: Isabella White
Graphic Designer: Maulina Gheananta
The demand for higher pay and better working conditions for employees in Europe has quickly increased over the years due to inflation. In the past few months, workers have gone on strike several times in countries including Germany, France, Spain, and the UK. The Industrial Revolution, which occurred from the late 1700s to the early 1800s, was a key factor in the demand for better pay. Due to class conflict, strict social hierarchy, and the construction of large manufacturing businesses, workers began to revolt against the harsh working conditions and low wages. Over the years, conditions have increased to a great extent, but inflation has caused strikes in Europe to occur more frequently. The reasons behind these modern-day strikes are coherent, but what are the impacts they have on European countries both politically and economically?
As projected on news sources and in the media, strikes in Germany have caused flights and trains to halt to a standstill. The Eisenbahn-und Verkehrsgewerkschaft union (EVG) and the Verdi service workers’ union, two major transport unions in Germany, announced an unexpected joint walkout on March 27th. This was the largest strike in decades, causing radical complications for travelers and commuters. Disruption occurred over airport, bus, rail, ports, and metro lines due to the massive strike. On account of the Russia-Ukraine War, inflation has risen due to the demand for food supplies and energy resources. The inflation was, and still is detrimental to countries worldwide, causing protests and strikes to occur more frequently. Currently, Verdi is in talks with employers, asking for a 10.5% pay raise. Employers have offered 5% in two stages and one-time payments of €2,500. On the other hand, EVG is demanding a 12% pay raise. In response to this, Germany’s main railway operator Deutsche Bahn has offered two stage raises that have a 5% pay raise. This particular strike, along with others, has caused major complications for commuters, citizens, and the tourism industry.
On the other hand, strikes in France have occurred due to a different reason. They began on January 19th as French President Emmanuel Macron exercised constitutional powers, allowing him to skip the vote for raising the minimum pension age in France from 62 to 64. Macron had previously attempted to reform the pension system during his first term in 2019, arguing that getting rid of the 42 regimes for sectors would be crucial to keeping the system financially practicable; he did not suggest raising the minimum retirement age until recently. Macron’s legislative actions have caused distraught and rage amongst trade unions and transport workers. Since the beginning of the year, unions, energy workers, teachers, and other public sector staff have expressed outrage and opposed this, taking to the streets in protest as well, with numbers as high as 1.28 million on March 7th. In an interview with correspondent Miles Parks, reporter Jake Cigainer shared his thoughts on the situation at hand: “Well, the core of the reforms raises the retirement age from 62 to 64…And starting in September, the retirement age to collect a pension will be raised incrementally by three months every year until the age reaches 64 in 2030. The reforms also raise the monthly pension rate, and it has measures that account for physical labor-intensive jobs,” (Parks, 2023). In response to Macron's actions, a rubbish strike leading to over 7,000 tonnes (and increasing rapidly) of rubbish piled up over half of Paris. Due to the mass numbers of protestors exceeding 550,000, police were sent out to respond to these protests and strikes, some armed with heavy equipment. Trade unions also argued that this overhaul will eventually be detrimental to laborers in low-income jobs who start their careers early, thus forcing them to work longer than graduates.
In Spain, Justice Administration Lawyers went on strike in order to raise their salaries by €450 per month by 2024. This concluded with a pay deal on March 28th after two months of strikes starting on January 24th. Reported by the strike, more than 350,000 actions were suspended between trials and statements. Beatriz Martinez, the Head of Court in Madrid, who’s court has 82 suspended trials with another 70 trials pending, has created what she calls “an avalanche” which “creates a big problem for us”. Judge Antonio Rodriguez, Head of the Social Court 3 of Cordoba, has had to postpone 100 trials as a result of the strike. Apart from this, the number of health care workers’ strikes have immensely risen in opposition to the capitalists’ perspectives against health care. These medical strikes have occurred for over a year in communities including Cantabria, Catalonia, and Valencia.
In contrast to requests for higher pay, strikes in the UK have stemmed from Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s budget announcement; this caused distress and vexation amongst public sector workers as they were unable to receive adequate payment to match inflation pay-rises. The strikes began following December of 2022, which held the largest National Health Services (NHS) strike and the biggest walkout of ambulance staff in three decades. In April of 2023, the government of the UK made minor success in settling agreements with unions in industries including educational services, with the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) being the third teacher union to reject the government’s pay offers with over 90% of the union members refusing the offer. They referred to it as “inadequate and unaffordable” for the next academic year. Strikes in the UK had major impacts on the Royal Mail postal service, His Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO), and regarding education and medicine. This has led to an increase in disruption across the country, as there were delays in the passport office and setbacks for travelers. Apart from these strikes, airport workers (border force staff) were temporarily replaced with army workers whilst they were on strike a while back.
Strikes in Europe over the past few months have caused major setbacks and difficulties for numerous countries. From low wages to inflation, strikes and protests in these European countries have occurred more frequently than ever before. While dozens of workers are seeking a pay-raise and better working conditions, the strikes have caused delays and closures in transportation areas including airports, metro lines, and bus stations. Governments are scrambling to respond to the unions and protestors, but the strikes will most likely continue in the following weeks, or even months.