There was no flight to Germany last weekend. German airports were shut down by strikes all Friday, affecting some 300,000 travelers. In the UK, nearly half a million train drivers, teachers and civil servants laid off work earlier this month. Mass protests have been going on in France for months. In the Netherlands, the garbage is not collected in several municipalities, last week not in Rotterdam, next week not in Amsterdam, there will be a follow-up to the strike in regional transport and probably there will also be actions in the hospitals. Across Europe, strikes are again being used to put pressure on the government or employers. Where does that resistance come from? Is there a European wave?
The romantics who see in these strikes the long-awaited uprising of workers against big capital must disappoint. When, ten years ago, the French economist Thomas Piketty showed in his book Capital in the 21st century how the wealthy class became increasingly wealthy at the expense of the working class, things remained quiet on the streets. Of course, there has been a lot of talk and debate about it. As an employee, you may talk about it, but you are not going to strike for it. You do that for your pay.
The demand for higher wages is on the table in all countries. Inflation, which began to rise after the corona period, has been further boosted by high energy prices as a result of the war in Ukraine. Citizens, especially in the lower and Middle groups, have seen in recent months how they can buy less and less from their income.
In the COVID period, the workload has increased enormously in a number of professions, such as healthcare. It was already high. Now people have something like this: you thought we were so important, so let’s see.
Differences between the countries are also there. The strikes we are now seeing in the Netherlands are all collective bargaining actions, part of negotiations between employers and trade unions in a sector or a company. In France, it is more of a political strike, with part of the population turning against the government and plans to raise the retirement age. In England, it is also really about overall dissatisfaction with politics and health care problems. The strike at German airports is again a classic wage conflict, similar to what is happening now in the Netherlands.
In the UK, things are going hard again. The government wants to dampen the effect of the many strikes by lifting the ban on employers using temporary workers to take over the work of strikers. That controversial decision now lies with the British Supreme Court. The verdict is expected next month. In the Netherlands, too, there is a legal ‘subversive ban’, which means that employers are not allowed to let the work of strikers be done by temporary workers or by other companies that lend staff. Dutch employers are not looking for confrontation on that point, although buses were driven by Office staff at the end of last year during the strike of regional transport at Schiphol. That is allowed, because it was about their own staff.