Britain’s Unions Bring London to a Standstill

This weekend saw massive, coordinated union marches in the UK. In London: “thousands” (FT); tens of thousands (AFP); 100,000 (SWLondoner); 150,000 (Evening Standard). Similar protests took place in Glasgow and Belfast.


Here’s a video from Real News Network:

More at The Real News

Lots of terrific quotes in the video — including the loathely David Cameron and the lesser evil Ed Milliband, who gets booed — but this caught my eye from RNN’s Hassan Ghani:

[J]ust to show they mean business, the Unions, with six million members have threatened a general strike across the United Kingdom – the first since 1926.

Christine Blower, National Union of Teachers

“When the time is right, and all the practicalities have been considered, we need to strike together, because we need to oppose welfare cuts, and health cuts, and education cuts.” …

For now, the unions are considering their options over a general strike, and preparing for a Europe-wide day of action on November 14th.

So circle the date on your calendar! Because November 14 is not that far away.

Readers, especially readers from the UK and (other parts of :-) Europe, what’s your take on the prospects for a European General Strike? How about potential impacts?

NOTE From the Barcalounger: I’m not sure about “opposing cuts” as a frame. That shades over quite easily into accepting some cuts, and so the union leaders might seem closer to Ed Milliband than the rank and file would prefer. Hence the booing. It would be nice to hear “We support _____” instead of “We oppose ____.” Offense, not defense. But then I’m not on the ground, so take with a dose of salts.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Guest Post on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Jo

    Not being funny but I live there….it’s a BIG place and by no stretch of the imagination was Lon at a stanstill.


    1. Lenny K

      Until the fires of London burning cloud the drone view of Iran from space this is total nonsense, and not one thing will change except the date.

      It is a collosal waste of time battling the fascist State on foot where it is totally immune.

  2. The Dork of Cork

    One guy got it very wrong.

    The UK is not a first world country , it no longer has a real world boffin skills base , the IMF began to take the British nation state war econony apart in the 60s with the help of Labour and later Conservative goverments.

    The UK is merely the cities base of operations ,it can no longer claim a seperate identity as it depends on Londons credit note production to provide for its imports – after the big bang its objective was to run North sea oil through the Euro PIigs and get a yield off the grot / labour arbitage.
    To do this it had to destroy British industry.
    It did.
    What remains of the British car industry will not save it – thats a entropy engine.
    A small island former nation of 60+ million people without the ability to split atoms in new power plants and dependent on a very long global supply chain can enter a world of shit very very quickly.

    1. Nathanael

      Scotland’s been avidly becoming a renewable energy producer, and still has resources… I wouldn’t count out the sustainability of the *UK* yet…

    2. Lance N

      Oho! A fine reason for independence.

      My grandfather was a Scot- a Dickensian coal miner who finished “parochial” school at age 10, to go down in the mines. I sincerely hope an indy Scotland does the Irish program of dual citizenship to them such as I.

    3. vlade

      Good grief.Please be soo good as to check your facts before eating up propaganda (which funnilly enough is the same in left and right and populist newspapers).
      UK actually is more industrialised (as in manufacturing as part of GDP) than France (21% vs 19%. Germany is 28%) . It has less Labour in industry than France (19% vs 24%) – but all that says is that UK industry is more efficient (Germany has 30% labour, so believe it or not, UK industry is MORE efficient than German in terms of GDP/labour terms).

      Do you have a smartphone or tablet? If so, the chip inside is based on ARM design, which happens to be a UK company (Cambridge based). Do you fly with Airbus? RollsRoyce engines (pretty much only competitor to GE in the civilian space). Lots of biotech companies around Cambridge. If you consider software as “industry”, then Creative Assembly is one of the largest game companies around (although it’s now owned by Sega, but still operates in UK). There’s even shipbuilding (barely surviving, but fairly sophisticated) and BAE (defence) is industrial by all accounts too.

      UK industry is not dead by a long haul – it’s just not massive steel mills and car industry anymore, it’s in general highly specialised niche stuff (which of course generates less low-to-mid skill jobs than huge industries).

      That’s not to say UK doesn’t have problems. One of them I can see is a significant problem with independent thinking (which is sometimees confused with skill problem) – across all classes. I’ve interviewed Oxbridge maths PhDs that couldn’t solve elementary algebraic problems (but could solve prepackaged SDEs). There’s a ruthless drive for specialization at the expense of independent thinking – after all “specialists” are easier to “manage” (read hire and fire as needed).

      The obsession with NHS brand regardless of the quality provided is another national problem – and I’m speaking here as someone who had personal experience with about half a dozen different health systems (and still like the French best).

      So UK has problems (who doesn’t?), but lack of industry (per se) compared to peers isn’t one of them.

  3. LeonovaBalletRusse

    Compare with the political spectacle in “The Prisoner” — same MI6prop look:

    “FREE FOR ALL” – “The new Number Two invites The Prisoner to run for office, with the promise of meeting Number One should he win. Number Six takes up the challenge and runs–for Number Two’s position” — “The Prisoner: No Man Is Just a Number” – starring Patrick McGoohan – An ITC PRODUCTION by EVERYMAN FILMS LIMITED
    (Program ©ITC Incorporated Television Company, Ltd. 1967. Licensed by ITV Global Entertainment Limited. All Rights Reserved. Art and Design ©2009 A&E Television Networks. All Rights Reserved. Marketed and distributed in the U.S. by New Video. . . . Drama AAAE208550LT1)

  4. Synopticist

    Thisa got very little coverage at all on the MSM, as i’m sure everyone will be SHOCKED to hear. This is despite the opposition leader speaking.

    There’s been basically no economic growth in the UK for over 2 years, but when the coalition government took power in summer 2010, we were recovering nicelly. Then we got a bunch of cuts, and the idiot Chancellor spent 6 months comparing the UK to Greece, and naturally everyone, consumers and business alike, stopped spending and investing. We’ve since gone into a double dip, and likelly heading for a triple dip once the olympic sugar boom is passed. We’re still 5% lower than we were in 2008. This is despite Euro area exports actually having risen.

    Meanwhile, the deficit is getting bigger every day, and poor people are getting benefits slashed. But the good news is, we can apparently afford to cut income taxes for people earning over 150 thousand pounds, and very fat corporation tax cuts, including some BRAND NEW corporation tax wheezes around foreign earnings.

    Basically, it’s standard hard-right economics, and it’s failing, as it always does.

    I’m not too confident about anything serious coming from a Euro wide strike, for the same reason very few people even heard about this protest. The MSM are corporate whores, and just about everyone who’s likelly to be making editiorial choices about how to cover it are within the bubble of the protected 3%, or desperate to join it. That include the BBC, who are a heavilly upper-middle class lot these days, full of barelly concealed contempt for common people or organised labour. ( they’re socially very liberal, but economically centre-right. Kind of like the Democratic party.)

  5. amateur socialist

    I appreciate getting this update – it has been hard to find much on this here as Syn notes.

    I was appalled to read Schieffer’s “debate topics” today – Not one of them relates to our relationship with Europe despite the very real possibility that the euro crisis will eventually spill over here and affect our markets. No matter how cynical you get it’s never enough…

  6. The Dork of Cork

    From the UKs energy trends quarterly pub. -SEP 2012 second quarter

    Total energy production 10% lower then first quarter 2011.
    energy import dependency now 42% (was 26% Q2 2010)

    oil production down 12% when compared to the second quarter 2011
    Gas production down 14% when comapred to the second quarter 2011


    1. Nathanael

      Not meaningful without measuring the renewable energy construction levels, or the energy efficiency situation (as measured by demand).

      Of course I don’t think either of those is in good shape in England either. But I’d want to see the stats before being sure.

      1. The Dork of Cork

        Go to the department of energy and climate change.
        They produce a quarterly pub. called energy trends.

        There are catostrophic declines all over the shop…..before the UK exported oil and gas now the UK is using its sov nature to strip the PIGs of this once surplus oil.
        The post 1990 dash for gas is over.
        With coal filling the void.
        Renewables do not cut it.
        Shares of coal in electricity consumption increased from 22.5% in Q2 2011 to 36.1% in Q2 2012 – its highest second quarter level for 14 years !!!!
        Nat Gas was at its lowest second quarter from 43.7% to 29.8%.
        You need NAT gas so that renawables can even half work (quick switch on and off times)
        When you have a coal or nuclear base load that green stuff does not work on any level.

  7. SomethingSomethingComplete

    What’s great about entire cities are brought to a standstill?

    We are in the middle of a stagnation and we are bringing cities to standstills?

    1. Synopticist

      Yeah, and Ebay, and Google, and Amazon, and a host of others.
      It’s got worse in the last few years, from an already appalling position.

  8. Me

    Had to really get excited. Tired of protests. Accomplishes nothing. The elites have proven they don’t care, you working people can rot. Why protest, trying to appeal to the power structure’s conscious? Either replace the bastards or don’t. Trying to get them to pay attention to you by getting together, holding signs, chanting, doing tough speeches, doesn’t do squat. It doesn’t inspire working people who have lost faith in the system either. You have to start scaring the bastards in power and they aren’t remotely scared right now. If the workers started taking over factories or something, if they got serious about puting into place alternatives to the system and did so outside the system’s control, you’d have something. Occupy here was a great hope, now its all but dead. If working people don’t move on from simply protesting and voting for bourgeois party after bourgeois party they should just accept their place in society.

    The unions might have been the organizations to do this a century ago. They got rid of the radicals though. The middle class unions helped the CIA and the NED later to destroy progressive forces around the world, especially in Europe and Latin America. There really isn’t a left in the US or Britain anymore and as a result there isn’t any voice for any fundamental alternatives. Since the economic system is rotten to the core, where to go?

    1. Nathanael

      This was the mood of people during the leadup to the Russian and French revolutions, Weimar Germany, the Great Depression….

      ….there’s lots of solutions, but they all depend on real political change. A few are really really worth avoiding (Hitler).

  9. mookie

    “…the loathely David Cameron”? I know you meant loathesome, but I rather like the ring of loathely. It makes a certain kind of sense:

    Love -> Lovely
    Loathe -> Loathely

    1. pws

      Loathly is a good old-fashioned English word, though it does seem to be synonymous with Loathsome.

      I know it because Gordon R. Dickinson used it in one (or more) of his fantasy novels.

Comments are closed.