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Conflict Weekly
Workers strike in the UK

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #154, 15 December 2022, Vol.3, No.37

An initiative by NIAS-IPRI and KAS-India Office

Padmashree Anandan


The UK: Conservative party put to test as worker strikes continue
In the news
On 13 December, 40,000 workers of the National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport (RMT) along with 14 train operating companies, staged a 48-hour walkout. The strikes were held in England, Scotland, and Wales demanding an increase in pay on par with the rising cost of living and better working conditions. The Network Rail which owns 50 per cent of the UK’s railway infrastructure, announced the shutdown of railway services during the strike days. Along with the rail workers, teachers, postal workers, border force officers, ambulance staff from the Unison, GMB unions, nurses, university staff, baggage handlers, driving examiners, and bus drivers from different labour unions announced to hold strikes through December and January.

On 13 December, in a firm response to these strikes, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that the government will not be able to shift its position on a pay rise. He said: “While the government will do all we can to minimize disruption, the only way we can stop it completely is by unions going back around the table and calling off these strikes.” According to Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt: “Any action that risks embedding high prices into our economy will only prolong the pain for everyone, and stunt any prospect of long-term economic growth.”

Issues at large
First, the nature of the strikes. This can be viewed at three levels. At the geographic and industry level, the strikes which began in June 2022 have been held across England, Wales, London, and Scotland by the RMT workers. This has now spilt over to workers from other critical sectors such as health (non-life-threatening division), education, and airport. At the workers’ level, although the striking group was predominantly blue-collar, to begin with, it has now come to include white-collar workers such as civil servants, junior doctors, teachers, university staff, and nurses. In terms of the total working days lost as per the data from the Office for National Statistics, the private sector has been impacted the most with a loss of 369 days, the highest since November 1996. At the demand level, it has increased beyond the initial call for a pay rise to better working conditions, job security, and more investments in infrastructure.
 
Second, reasons behind the strike. One, the clash between the demand for a pay increase and the government’s hold on public spending and its plan to increase taxes is seen as the major trigger behind the strikes. Two, the participation of the white-collar employees from administration, health care, schools, and universities was due to budget cuts resulting in a lack of beds, home health aides, shortage in staff to attend backlogs and prevent delays in healthcare, schools, and universities. Although the current allocated budget and existing reserve in 2022 will keep the educational institution afloat, sustaining the same for the next year remains to be seen.

Third, government response. The UK government has not been reluctant, however, prioritising the economic pressure and addressing the demands for a pay rise has gone slow. Thus far, the government’s response to the strikes in December has not been in the favour of the labour unions from railways, baggage handlers, universities, public and commercial services, and bus drivers. The governments in England and Wales have given an average rise of 4.75 per cent to NHS (National Health Service) staff, up to 9 per cent to the royal mail workers, and 6.85 per cent to the lowest-paid category of teachers. Since the offered pay rise does not match the inflation, it has been rejected by the workers, furthering the chaos inside the country. Further, the government has followed stricter rules such as a strike can be organised only if a majority in the union agree through an organized vote. The restrictions also apply to certain professionals such as nurses (who will not risk the immediate health of patients), ambulance workers, and firefighters, while police officers are not allowed to strike. The government is expected to propose tougher rules in the coming weeks.

In perspective
First, a troubled public service atmosphere. UK’s growing strikes amongst the railway, airport baggage, university, and to some extent the NHS staff can disrupt key services and lead to public resentment. Increasing energy prices, cost of living, and cutting down on public service will reduce the public’s support for the conservative party.
 
Second, a wait-and-watch game for Sunak’s administration. Worker strikes are nothing new in the UK since the 17th-century industrial action is well known amongst the worker groups, but the government’s response to such strikes has varied over time. Taking the 1978 “Winter of Discontent” period as an example, Harold Wilson’s Labour Party failed to address the pay rise demand of the workers which triggered more strikes and no concrete decision. This eventually led to the Margaret Thatcher administration (Conservative) to introduce rules to control the power of trade unions in the 1980s which resulted in silencing the miner strikes who returned to work without any negotiation. Similarly, Sunak’s administration can also be expected to wait and watch the strikes weaken, but it is going to be a long wait.


Also, from around the World
Avishka Ashok, and Sai Pranav, Joel Jacob, Sethuraman N, Akriti Sharma, Bhoomika Sesharaj, Rashmi Ramesh, Apoorva Sudhakar, Anu Maria Joseph, Padmashree Anandhan, Harini Madhusudan, Madhura Mahesh and Ankit Singh
 
East and Southeast Asia
China: Hong Kong demands Google to remove protest anthem from search results 
On 13 December, Hong Kong's Chief Executive John Lee announced that he would urge Google to remove the Hong Kong protest anthem from the search engine and instead show the Chinese national anthem. Google's parent company Alphabet, however, rejected the appeal. Lee's push to replace the protest anthem comes after it was played at an international rugby event in South Korea and a powerlifting event in Dubai. 
 
Taiwan: China send record number of nuclear bombers in 24-hour period 
On 13 December, Taiwan's Defense Ministry reported that the Chinese PLA had sent a record number of nuclear capable aircraft into its air defense identification zone (ADIZ). A total of 21 aircraft entered the ADIZ within 24 hours, of which 18 were nuclear-capable H-6 bomber aircraft. The incursion is considered to be the largest in a 24-hour period since China began its military aggression in 2020.  The action also comes after China banned another set of imports from Taiwan, worsening the economic crisis in the country. 
 
North Korea: The EU sanctions Pyongyang’s nuclear development enablers
On 13 December, the EU sanctioned eight individuals and four entities for unlawfully financing and supporting North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests. North Korea’s Rocket Industry along with its subsidiary trading company, Korean Rounsan Trading Corporation were among the entities under sanctions. The sanctions were imposed following North Korea’s recent development in missile and nuclear technology violating the UNSC resolution.
 
Thailand: Army kills 15 drug smugglers
On 10 December, the army said 15 suspected drug smugglers attempting to cross into Northern Thailan were killed by Thai soldiers. The firefight occurred near Thailand after rangers patrolling the area found 20 people walking from the Myanmar side. They fired at the military troops when ordered to stop for a search; after the attack, 30 bags of ice (methamphetamine) were seized.
 
Australia: Gunfight kills six people in Queensland
On 12 December, six people including two police officers were shot dead in a gunfight at a remote property in Wieambilla, 300 kilometres northwest of Brisbane in Queensland. Police issued an emergency declaration under Public Safety Preservation Act and quarantined the nearby area, warning residents to stay inside. Sixteen specialist police officers and PolAir besieged the property and two men and a woman, and the three perpetrators were shot dead. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said that the incident shocked the entire country. This was the first major gun violence since gun laws were introduced in Australia in 1996.
 
South Asia
India-China: Clashes reported at Arunachal Pradesh border
On 9 December, Indian soldiers were injured in a clash with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Yangste, along the Line of Actual Control in Arunachal Pradesh. According to The Hindu, the Indian Army said: “On December 09, 2022, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops contacted the LAC in Tawang sector, which was contested by own troops in a firm and resolute manner. This face-off led to minor injuries to a few personnel from both sides, Both sides immediately disengaged from the area.” A PLA  Senior Colonel said that they were conducting a regular patrol in the Dongzhang area when the Indian Army blocked them.
 
Bangladesh: Families of Rohingya refugees raise alarm over those stranded in Andaman Sea
On 13 December, The Quint reported that families of over 160 Rohingya refugees stranded in the Andaman Sea had raised alarm over their repatriation to “some country” that would provide them safety and housing. This comes as the boat has remained out of communication after it went astray on 1 December. On 8 December, the UNHRC called on the authorities to “immediately rescue and safely disembark” those who are stranded. 

Bangladesh: Jamiat-e-Islami leader arrested as anti government protests increase in the country
On 13 December, the leader of the Jamiat-e-Islami (JeI) or the Bangladesh Islamic Assembly Shafiqur Rehman was arrested after the party joined the opposition’s rally demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Party Secretary General Maulana ATM Mausum said that the JeI “vehemently condemns” the arrest and that they want the chief’s “immediate” release. This arrest preceded the party’s previous trials and criminal vindication against the current government and maintained that the country does not “believe” in democracy and that the BNP’s demands are in line with their political actions. The party also announced that they would hold joint rallies with the BNP in the coming days.
 
Sri Lanka: Air quality index hits unhealthy level
On 8 December, the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) warned that the air quality in many parts of Sri Lanka dropped to an unhealthy level. The NBRO said that an influx of dust particles to Sri Lanka's airspace through strong winds from India is causing the pollution. Meanwhile The US Air Quality Index (AQI) recorded the air quality in Colombo at 249; Kurunegala, 291; Jaffna, 280;  Vavuniya, 251; and Kandy, 214. The NBRO added that the AQI was unhealthy in many districts, ranging between 150 and 200. 
 
Sri Lanka: Cyclone Mandous kills three, damages many houses
On 9 December, the Disaster Management Centre said that three people died and more than 13,000 houses were damaged in a landfall by Cyclone Mandous. The Meteorological Department warned of increasing waves from 2.5 metres to 3.5 metres in the offshore waters from Kankesanturai to Batticaloa through Trincomalee and up to 2.0 metres to 2.5 metres from Galle to Batticaloa through Hambantota and Pottuvil.
 
Sri Lanka: Dengue cases see a rapid increase in the past week
On 8 December, the National Dengue Control Unit said there is a rapid rise in dengue cases. The Sri Lankan government confirmed 1602 dengue cases in a week. The unit said that Gampaha district had the highest number of cases, with 390 cases reported and Colombo with 27 cases. The unit added that 68,928 dengue cases were reported in 2022 alone. Currently, 41 regions are declared as high-risk zones for dengue fever.
 
Maldives: Health Minister call for awareness among citizens on high risk of HIV infection
On 10 December, Maldives' Health Minister Ahmed Naseem, observing World AIDS day, said that even though Maldives has few HIV patients, numerous people are at the risk of getting affected by HIV. Naseem said that the Government would engage in diagnosis and facilitate treatment for the infected citizens. The Health Protection Agency report stated that there are 22 Maldivian AIDs patients diagnosed in December 2022. The Ministry of Health said that the main motive of celebrating World AIDS Day is to protect Maldives from HIV, raise awareness and to help  prevent risk factors. Meanwhile, the President Office Special Advisor on Social Policies launched a national strategic plan on HIV, Hepatitis and STIs.
 
Central Asia, Middle East, and Africa
Syria: US holds raids against the Islamic State
On 11 December, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) issued a statement that the forces “conducted a successful helicopter raid in eastern Syria at 2:57am (23:57 GMT)… killing two ISIS officials.” The statement however, did not mention the specific location of the overnight operation. The CENTCOM's initial assessment confirmed that the raid caused no civilian casualties.
 
Iran: Public execution of a protestor
On 12 December, Iranian judiciary’s news website announced that Majidreza Rahnavard, a protester convicted of killing two members of the security forces was publicly executed in an unidentified location in Mashhad. The judiciary claimed that Rahnavard “waged war against God” and carried out a terrorist act against two Basij (a para-military force affiliated with the IRGC) members on 17 November. 
 
Chad: 27 migrants found dead in desert
On 13 December, the International Organization for Migration said 27 migrants, including four children, had been found dead in a desert in Chad; the IOM said the migrants died of thirst after the truck they were travelling in from west-central Chad broke down. The IOM said that in the last eight years, 5,600 people have either died or gone missing while crossing the Sahara Desert to north African countries like Libya, which serve as a transit to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.
 
South Sudan: Nearly 40,000 people displaced in Upper Nile, says UN
On 12 December, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that nearly 40,000 people have been displaced following the renewed fighting in Upper Nile. It added that the increasing violence is hampering humanitarian response, while thousands are living in dire conditions and in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. The fighting between the national army and the Maiwut opposition forces had resumed in November. 
 
Ethiopia: Government to investigate the bodies of migrants in Zambia
On 12 December, the Ethiopian government said that it will begin an expert investigation on reports that bodies of 27 Ethiopian nationals were found dumped in Zambia the previous week. The bodies found were of men - all aged between 20 and 38 believed to have died suffocated while trying to reach South Africa. Previously, in October, bodies of 25 Ethiopians were found in neighbouring Malawi.
 
Somalia: IPC  warns of famine in early 2023
On 13 December, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) assessment said that Somalia narrowly avoided a full-scale famine this year. It added that avoiding famine doesn’t mean avoiding misery, hunger, and deaths and that millions of people living in worse humanitarian conditions would triple in 2023. This means over 700,000 people will face dire hunger unless timely assistance is provided. It further added, if the dire condition continues, famine could be declared as early as April 2023.
 
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Floods claim over 120 lives in Kinshasa
On 14 December, BBC reported that over 120 people had been killed in the floods and landslides in capital city Kinshasa. Major roads, including the N1 highway connecting Kinshasa to the Matadi port, are submerged. On 13 December, Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde visited the affected areas and said the search for more bodies was continuing. Meanwhile, President Félix Tshisekedi who is in Washington for the US-African Union summit said the floods were something that the DRC had been deploring; outlining the impact of climate change, Tshisekedi said: "The DRC is under pressure but unfortunately it's not sufficiently heard or supported.”
 
Europe and the Americas
Slovakia: Arms deal signed to import armoured combat vehicles
On 12 December, Slovakia signed an arms deal with the Swedish division of the British defence company BAE Systems to purchase 152 armoured combat vehicles. Slovakian Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad appreciated the “modernisation” of its armed forces. According to the BAE Systems, the USD 1.37 billion agreement for the delivery of 152 CV9035 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) would include modern sub-systems and Israeli-produced Spike-LR anti-tank missiles.

Estonia: New cyber facility to support Ukraine in combat
On 12 December, Estonia’s e-Governance Academy (eGA) announced the completion of a new military cyber facility in Ukraine to combat Russian cyberattacks. The new facility was built with the help of the Ukrainian military and Estonia’s CybExer Technologies as a part of the EU’s support to Ukraine. According to eGA official Hannes Astok, the new facility will not only help in improving the Ukrainian military’s cybersecurity skills but also build the “cyber resilience of Ukraine.” 
 
Europe: IEA report warns of gas shortage in EU
On 12 December, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published a report warning that the EU will face a shortage of 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 2023 due to the reduced import of Russian natural gas. To avoid the shortages, the IEA proposed that Europe can invest more to increase energy efficiency, renewables, install heat pumps, boost gas supplies and promote energy saving. The IEA also recommended measures to simplify the permit process for renewables, change tax laws that penalise electrification and expansion of existing energy efficiency programs.

Europe: EU’s CSDP mission to fight against armed terrorism in Niger
On 12 December, the European Council approved the creation of a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) military partnership mission with Niger to combat armed terrorist groups. The CSDP will help Niger contain the threat of armed terrorist groups. The Nigerien Armed Forces’ ability will also be bolstered through the partnership. The EU military partnership mission to Niger (EUMPM Niger) will support the creation of the Centre for Training Armed Forces Technicians. The EU will train and advice Nigerien forces on combat terrorism within Niger to ensure peace and security within the region. The estimated cost of the EUMPM Niger is EUR 27.3 million. 

The UK: MOD report an increase in Iranian support to Russia in Ukraine war
On 10 December, the UK Ministry of Defence in its intelligence update reported on the increasing support of Iran to Russia in supply of weapons, ballistic missiles. In return, Russia has promised to provide technical and military support to Iran to improve their defence relationship. The intelligence update also predicted an expansion of Russia’s SS-26 Iskander ballistic missiles and warned of an increased participation by Iran in the war, which may place Ukraine’s national infrastructure under risk.
 
Ukraine: UK official reveals the deployment of troops in Ukraine 
On 13 December, The Times reported a statement by Lieutenant General Robert Magowan admitting to the UK's conduction of high-risk operations by the Royal Marines during the Ukraine war. The development comes as Moscow has been claiming that NATO's military troops have actively participated in the region; the West had dismissed the claims. While Magowan did not elaborated on the missions carried out by the commandos, his statement marks the first time that the UK has admitted that its troops conducted special operations in Ukraine. About 300 members of the elite Royal Marines unit were sent in April to reestablish the British mission in Kiev. Following this, Magowan wrote in the force’s official journal The Globe and Laurel that they are known to have conducted “other discreet operations." 

Kosovo: Serbs attacks on police and EULEX
On 11 December, Kosovan Serbs launched a blockade opposing the arrest of a former Kosovan Serb who was part of the police force. The blockade in northern Kosovo led to the forceful closure of two border crossings between Kosovo and Serbia. The Kosovan Police reported that the Kosovan Serbs had opened fire against the police units and had also attacked the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) with a stun grenade. Both these attacks drew criticism from the EU and NATO with the EU Foreign Policy Chief condemning: "This attack, as well as the attacks on Kosovo Police officers, are unacceptable." EU Chief Diplomat Joseph Borrell condemned the incident: "EU will not tolerate attacks on EULEX Kosovo or use of violent, criminal acts in the north." Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that he would be requesting the NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo to allow the deployment of Serbian troops and police in Kosovo. 
 
Peru: Mexican ambassador summoned over Pedro Castillo's asylum request
On 9 December, the Foreign Ministry summoned the Mexican ambassador over the Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's claims that former Peruvian President Pedro Castillo Castillo was seeking asylum in Mexico. Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebard also said he had begun consultations with the Peruvian authorities regarding Castillo’s request. Ebard also revealed a copy of Castillo’s official request for asylum in Mexico through his lawyer. In the letter, Castillo’s lawyer claimed that Castillo was facing “unfounded persecution” and that his arrest was politically motivated.
 
Peru: Thousands protest against the government over the arrest of Pedro Castillo
On 13 December, thousands took to the streets against the arrest and impeachment of former President Pedro Castillo. The two main centres of protest are Lima and Andahuaylas where protesters demanded fresh elections. Peru’s ombudsman reported that six people were killed during the protests out of which five were teenagers. In response to the protests, President Dina Boluarte announced that she has tabled a proposal in Congress calling for fresh elections. Defense Minister Alberto Otarola said that the government will be declaring a state of emergency on the highways and added that Peruvian armed forces will be in charge of protecting important infrastructure.
 
Brazil: Bolsonaro supporters protest as electoral results were certified by the electoral court
On 12 December, supporters of Bolsonaro protested near the official residence of the president as the federal electoral court certified the election results declaring President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva the winner. The protests were also sparked by the arrest of indigenous leader José Acácio Serere Xavante on the charge of engaging in anti-democratic activities. Protesters also attacked the federal police headquarters in Brasilia where they reportedly burned down cars and buses. The police responded by firing stun grenades and tear gas.
 
The US: Biden signs The Respect for Marriage Act Biden
On 13 December, President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act. Biden said “This law and the love it defends strike a blow against hate in all its forms."  Under the Respect for Marriage Act, same sex marriage will be provided protection; LGBTQ+ allies while celebrating the development, maintained that there is more scope for LGBTQ+ in all social sphere of life than just marriage and claimed legal protection under Equality Act.


About the authors
Rashmi Ramesh, Harini Madhusudan, Akriti Sharma and Ankit Singh are Doctoral Scholars at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, National Institute of Advanced Studies. Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Apoorva Sudhakar, Avishka Ashok and Padmashree Anandhan are Project Associates at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS. Anu Maria Joseph, Joel Jacob, Sai Pranav and Sethuraman N are Research Assistants at NIAS. Madhura Mahesh and Bhoomika Sesharaj are research interns at NIAS.

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