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Strikes in the United Kingdom: A symptom of a sick capitalism.

Sergio Latorre

Praxis - Think centre

In a simple exercise, capitalism could be compared to the process of a viral infection. A virus lives parasitically at the expense of the energy and metabolism of its host. Similarly, capital exists solely by extracting surplus value from workers' labour and vital time. In the infectious process, it is of prime importance for the virus not to completely eliminate its host organism, since it ends the very source of its energy. This makes the process of reproduction and evolution of a virus a constant contradiction: on the one hand, extracting the energy from its host, which obviously causes its illness, but on the other hand, preserving the life of its host, since its existence depends on it. In other words, finding a way to prolong the agony of the organism suffering from the infection to its maximum level.

Just as the constant evolution of viruses and their coexistence with different living organisms causes them to invest all their genetic machinery in inventing new and more sophisticated mechanisms to evade recognition and go unnoticed by the immune system, likewise, capital tends to invest huge efforts in making it impossible for a reaction against it and, more importantly, in evading identification and control. However, in the end, there will always be episodes in which the infection is such that the fever increases and the organism tries to shake off and combat the virus. In our world, that of capitalism, this seems to be one of those moments.

The beginning of 2023 marks a symptomatic moment in the heart of the European region. In the United Kingdom, the streets have been hosts to one of the largest and sustained uprisings of the English proletariat in recent history. What seemed like one of the many cycles of wage negotiations between trade unions and employers has turned into an intersectoral movement that under the slogan "enough is enough!" has awakened the solidarity and support clusters of social sectors, which still lack a political movement or organisation to lead or mediate their demands.

The Conservative government has used the strategy of intimidation through messages ranging from new laws to outlaw strikes to the use of military force to contain social protest. Wear and tear have also been part of their plan since several of the sectors that are leading this cycle of protests are essential for social functioning, and with the prolongation of the strikes, it is foreseeable that popular support could quickly turn against them. Those leading this movement have been mainly the proletarians of the hospital sector, with a central participation of nurses' colleges; rail and mass urban transport workers; and the teaching staff, as well as education workers.

Contrary to the forecasts of the British government, the strike calendar has shown resilience and solid planning on the part of proletarian organisations (Figure 1). Such has been the strength that this government, which nostalgically called for the use of Thatcherism and not to give in to workers' demands, has ordered to speed us negotiations amidst the announcement of new branches and sectors that are announcing their entry into the strike.

Figure 1. Strike calendar in the United Kingdom. The sectors presented here include several sub-sectors, each with their particular demands. Data:

The popular support and sympathy that have strengthened this strike are intimately related to the deepening of the crisis of capital. Faced with the difficulty of increasing and even maintaining productivity to extract profits from the proletariat, the capital rulers have chosen to intensify the pressure on families' budgets, who have on average seen their salaries decrease drastically in the last two years (almost 10%). This real loss in their monthly payments is directly related to the increase in the cost of living. According to the UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS), the increase in inflation in the last period has been mainly driven by increases in "electricity and gas tariffs as well as non-alcoholic food and drink" [1]. Housing costs have become the main economic burden in the last period (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Left: Dynamics of Real Wages and Inflation in the period between April 2019 and January 2023. Right: Dynamics of the contribution to inflation by housing costs. Data taken from the UK's Office for National Statistics.

In the end, strikes are the result of a harsh reality: working families with full-time jobs who must rely on food charity donations ("food banks") to supplement their diet [2]; a 24% increase in homeless people in rural areas since 2022 [3]; growing cases of elderly people who wander for days on end inside public transportation vehicles during winter because they cannot afford to pay the monthly bills to heat their homes.

The government's explanations for the increase in the cost of living revolve around the cutoff of energy supplies due to the war in Ukraine. However, behind this lame, reductionist and fully ideological excuse lies a reality that is becoming increasingly difficult to hide or disguise. The same companies that increase prices for users, far from recording economic losses, have made extraordinary profits in the last year. For example, Shell reported its highest profit in 115 years [4], and BP doubled its profits compared to the previous year [5]. The indignation of having a growing population of workers on the brink of desperation grotesquely contrasts with the record profits of the same companies that are their executioners.

The widespread wave of strikes in the UK exposes the contradictory relationship of capital in an advanced state of crisis. Just as at some point, a virus within an organism breaks its state of dormancy and advances towards the generalised destruction of its host organism, capital shows symptoms of generalised destruction of its source of wealth: the proletariat.

The strike days in the UK have been successful so far because of their effort to break the division among the proletariat segregated in different sectors and branches of production. The use of trade union organisations as platforms to mobilise the proletariat who are not necessarily covered by a labour contract model or who are part of that growing army of unemployed, has been the best resource that has strengthened this growing movement.

However, the recent moments of crisis announce an extraordinary opportunity to shake the social organism of an infection that has condemned it to a very long and exhausting agony. These times require bold actions that integrate the experience of labour organisations towards the totality of the proletariat. Just as capital tries to seize vital time beyond offices and jobs, struggles must also go beyond working hours.



1. Consumer price inflation, UK: January 2023. Published Feb 15th 2023. At:

2. Food and You 2 - Wave 3. At:

3. Covered by the BBC. At:

The complete report can be found as “Homelessness in the Countryside: A Hidden Crisis” . At:

4. Shell reports highest profits in 115 years. BBC. February 02nd 2023. At:

5. BP profit jump sparks calls for bigger windfall tax. BBC. November 01st 2022. At:

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