United Kingdom, France, Italy… Europe takes to the streets due to rising prices


The economic situation in Europe is leaving a flood of discontent among citizens due to the loss of purchasing power that has triggered inflationary pressure. Dissatisfaction with this situation has left Europe littered with strikes, protests and demonstrations, and is especially serious in the case of the United Kingdom, which after Brexit is dealing with a serious problem of rising prices. The CPI rose two tenths in December to 10.5%, according to data from the British National Statistics Office (ONS), which is why it remains at a 40-year high, with food, basic products in the shopping basket of any family, pushing strongly upwards.

In the Eurozone, the situation is slightly better, with inflation that has eased to 9.2% in December 2022, according to Eurostat data. This figure is still very high if we consider that before the pandemic, inflation stood at 0.9% (December 2019) and had remained practically stagnant -even going negative- over the last decade. However, discontent is also perceived in the streets.

The main problem that Europeans have faced in the last year has been the rise in energy prices aggravated after the Russian invasion in Ukraine which, despite the efforts of the governments, has seriously affected producers and consumers, having repercussions in the slowdown of the entire economy. That of the Eurozone and that of the Union of Twenty-seven they barely grew 0.3% in the third quarter of last yearthe latest for which the European Statistical Office has data.

The case of the United Kingdom: a million days of work lost

The UK has been paralyzed by a fresh series of protests in recent weeks by healthcare workers demanding a pay review to offset rising costs of living and by shortages caused by their crashing out of the EU without a plan for the future. That exit ‘to the brave’ has been aggravated by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. According to ONS estimates, the United Kingdom would have lost around a million days of work just with the strikes last December.

Faced with this striking scenario that hasn’t happened since the days of Margaret Thatcherthe UK trade secretary, Grant Shapps, confirmed earlier this year that Rishi Sunak’s government is ready to present the draft an “anti-strike” law to parliament. The unions have already shown their refusal before a law that they consider a direct attack on democratic rights. In addition, they have warned that if the regulation is approved it could cause an unwanted chain effect.

Far from relaxing the climate of protest, last Monday the British unions Unite and Unison announced the start of new strikes by ambulance workers. Unison members are on strike at five UK ambulance services and two hospitals in Liverpool, while Unite members are on strike in the West Midlands, North West, North East, East Midlands and Wales.

Last week several unions, including those of train drivers and medical workers, had already announced a new wave of strikes in February and March. The largest convocation in NHS history is set to take place on February 6 with paramedics and nurses at work.

The Sunak government is not only faced with the growing strength of the British unions, it also has to face the tide of support from the citizens and that is that more than 50% of the English population understands and supports the strikes by the sector health (nursing, ambulance staff), firefighters, teachers and postal staff.

Protests also in France, Italy and Germany

In France, the situation is extremely tense since the government put the pension reform on the table. The energy branch of the CGT, which had already been involved in the protests against the government of Emmanuel Macron by preventing the supply of fuel in three refineries, has returned to the charge. The French union called a 48-hour strike starting on January 26, another 72-hour action for February 6, and a multisectoral day on January 31.

The scenario facing Olaf Scholz is not much better, with the agricultural sector taking to the streets denouncing the increase in fuel prices and the policies of the German governmentwhich, according to farmers, are giving rise to multinationals overexploiting natural resources, while producers are prevented from selling their products in a market that tends to concentration.

Last week hundreds of farmers and environmentalists demonstrated in Berlin, in front of the historic Brandenburg Gate, demanding a fair agricultural and food policy from the Scholz government. The demonstrators demanded that fair prices be guaranteed to the producer, in addition to increase social assistance and support to all those who practice respectful agriculture with the environment.

In Italy the atmosphere is also heated. The gas station unions announced a strike (which has since been called off) in protest against the measures against the increase in fuel prices and for what they consider a smear campaign against them, since Giorgia Meloni will force them from now on to display next to the price of gasoline or diesel the average daily value of the fuel.

In addition, the country has criticized the Italian government for not renewing the 18-cent reduction in excise taxes applied to each liter of fuel, a measure that was introduced until December 31 by its previous president, Mario Draghi, and that the Meloni herself had promised to maintain.

Sánchez frees himself, for the moment, from general discontent

In Spain the situation is somewhat different. It is true that there are strikes underway, such as that of Primary Care doctors who demand salary increases due to the shortage of doctors in the public sector or the excessive workload. However, there has not been a wave of protests like the ones some of our neighbors are suffering.

Part of this absence of conflict has to do with all the agreements that employers and unions signed at the worst moment of the pandemic, when the economy shut down. In addition, other policies such as the discount of 20 cents on gasoline and diesel, the reduction of VAT on basic necessities, aid for those affected by ERTE during the pandemic or the increase in the minimum interprofessional wage up to 1,050 euros per month They would also have to do, according to experts. However, if the loss of purchasing power persists, the discontent of the Spanish could go further.

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