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What are the chances of a general strike happening in the UK?

With unrest at trade unions and a worsening cost-of-living crisis, officials are considering calling for a nationwide strike

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

With the cost-of-living crisis causing prices and bills to soar and with wages, erm, not soaring (for most of us, anyway), life in the UK seems to be getting more expensive by the day. And, as we’ve seen in recent weeks, that’s caused some to take action.

Strikes from the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union have managed to bring much of the UK’s rail network to a standstill – but could the disruption soon get even worse? Could we even see a general strike?

Well, in short, there’s definitely some kind of chance of a general strike. Should Liz Truss, who has campaigned on reining in the power of unions, become UK prime minister, the RMT’s influential union chief Mick Lynch has said he will press for a general strike. Other motivations for a strike could range from trying to get the government to act more effectively against rising prices to petitioning employers for inflation-level wage increases.

While a general strike sounds dramatic – and, make no mistake, it’d certainly be very disruptive – it isn’t quite as all-consuming as you might think. Even in a general strike, not everyone can take industrial action. There are actually quite strict rules for going on strike, not least that you need to be part of a union. If you’re not unionised and you go on strike? Well, you’ll probably just get fired.

While people tend to think of the miners’ strikes in the 1980s as some of the most impactful strikes in UK history, the last time the country saw a real, proper general strike was way back in 1926. But around the world, general strikes aren’t that uncommon. For comparison, India had a huge 250 million-person one in 2020, Portugal and Spain both took action in 2012 and France had a similar nationwide strike in 1995.

So maybe the UK is due one too, eh? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

ICYMI: how long will the UK rail strikes go on for? Here’s what we know.

Plus: these are the parts of the UK where people live the longest.

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