Anti-government protests in Israel and planned labor action in the UK and France
Israel: Judicial reform proposal triggers anti-government protests
Mass protests denouncing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reforms took place in major cities across Israel on Jan. 14, resulting in localized traffic disruptions and minor skirmishes between security forces and demonstrators. Organized by political activists and backed by Israel’s left-wing parties, the demonstrations indicate strong public opposition to the political priorities of the recently formed Netanyahu-led government. While Tel Aviv witnessed the largest demonstrations – media reported that at least 80,000 gathered at the city’s Habima Square – smaller protests also materialized in Jerusalem, Modinn, Rosh Pina, and Haifa. The demonstrations proceeded largely without incident, although small crowds scuffled with police after participants blocked a major junction in Tel Aviv. In addition to Jan. 14, students at three universities in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Be’er-Sheva held anti-government demonstrations on Jan. 16; security forces arrested several participants for blocking a road and refusing to comply with police instructions. The recent protests were in response to various proposals presented on Jan. 11 by Netanyahu’s new coalition government – sworn in on Dec. 29 – that critics claim will weaken the Supreme Court by enabling parliament to overturn court decisions with a simple majority vote and assume control over the appointment of judges. Indicted in 2019, Netanyahu is facing corruption charges, and the legal changes to the judiciary system could help him evade conviction or dismiss the trial. At the time of publication, no further anti-government demonstrations have been reported, although protest leaders have called for labor strikes and future public demonstrations to pressure the Prime Minister into dropping the proposed changes. This indicates that additional protests and work stoppages are possible in the short term – especially coinciding with any further developments relating to the Netanyahu corruption case or judicial reform initiatives – which could threaten the nation’s economy and disrupt business continuity.
Europe: Multi-sector labor strikes planned in the UK and France
Ongoing labor strikes in the UK and France are projected to intensify and significantly disrupt transportation and public services across the two countries over the next sixty days. Thousands of nurses started a two-day strike on Jan. 18 and plan to renew the work stoppage on Feb. 6-7, affecting approximately a quarter of hospitals and clinics in England. A strike led by 100,000 members of the UK’s public sector union on Feb. 1 will disrupt services in 124 government departments. Train operators are also scheduled to strike on Feb. 1 and 3, which will likely delay or cancel local and national public transport services on commuter routes across the country. Teachers will conduct seven walkouts in England and Wales over the next two months, and several other UK unions representing Junior Doctors, Firefighters, and Royal Mail workers are currently balloting their members for proposed strikes. In France, coordinated, nationwide work stoppages organized by the eight largest unions are scheduled to begin on Jan. 19, during which less than one-third of high-speed TGV lines and only 10% of local TER trains are projected to remain operational. International traffic on the Eurostar and Thalys lines should remain unaffected, although the Lyria connection with Switzerland will be heavily disrupted, and services of other international train connections will be entirely canceled. Operations of the vast majority of RER commuter lines and three metro lines in Paris will be suspended, with service on the remaining lines likely to be disrupted. Paris’s Orly Airport (ORY) is the only airport in France anticipated to be disrupted by strikes, leading France’s Civil Aviation Authority to preemptively cancel 20% of flights operating at the airport. French oil sector unions will join the work stoppage on Jan. 19, with progressively longer strikes scheduled for Jan. 26 and Feb. 6 which are anticipated to decrease, if not halt, oil refinement and delivery, likely leading to fuel shortages. Sparked by unions’ grievances over stagnant wages and inflation, the ongoing industrial action initially began in mid-2022 and is expected to continue in the coming months. The approaching strikes in the UK are bolstered by Parliament’s consideration of a bill to restrict the right to strike, while work stoppages in France are reinvigorated by opposition to a new government pension reform plan extending the retirement age from 62 to 64. The unresolved nature of these labor disputes makes continuing strikes highly likely, in turn threatening to significantly impact the economies of the affected nations. Heightened security measures are likely near government buildings and highly populated areas in anticipation of protests.