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by Louise Wilson
22 June 2022
Comment: Brace for more strikes – and embrace those striking too

Arch White / Alamy Stock Photo

Comment: Brace for more strikes – and embrace those striking too

The UK should brace for more strike action over the coming months – and we should show support for those workers when they do.

With the cost-of-living crisis really starting to take hold, many are worried about whether the next paycheck will cover the bills. And that security – to know they won’t be left without electricity or food or, at worst, even a home – is all most of these workers are asking for.

For the most part, they understand that a pay rise in line with inflation isn’t possible. The ONS confirmed today that inflation has hit 9.1 per cent and that is largely driven by essentials like food, fuel and bills. That situation is only expected to get worse, with recent forecasts suggesting energy bills might go up again in October. The RMT – the trade union supporting Network Rail workers who have halted the majority of train services across the UK for three days this week – is asking for a pay rise of 7 per cent (presumably knowing, too, that the final agreement will come a little short of that, as these things often do).

Among all of this, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Roz Foyer, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, late last year. “I have no doubt that our governments will now start to talk the language of austerity to us and tell us we’re all in this together and we have to start paying for all the outlay,” she said. “I hope that people will think about some of the lessons we have learned from this pandemic, because what we've learned is it's not the billionaires that got us through this.

“It’s our NHS workers, it’s our delivery drivers, our supermarket workers, our care workers and our local government workers that got us through this pandemic – going out and working day after day when the rest of us were protected and safe at home. I hope people won't forget that they went out and clapped for those workers at the time and that those workers deserve not to be on poverty pay.”

She said it was important to create “more of a fighting back spirit” in response to the inevitable pressures on everyone’s pay packets. We are starting to see some of the fighting back spirit now with the high-profile Network Rail and ScotRail strikes, and the slightly lower profile Unison strikes at universities across the UK that have been going on for months. It’s likely – though not inevitable – that we may see more as nurses and teachers look set to walk out, and even police staff have rejected a pay offer (though they haven’t floated the idea of industrial action).

The current stance of the UK government seems to be something akin to “we do not negotiate with terrorists”. There is concern that “caving” to union demands will only spark more strike action elsewhere but we are already well beyond that point, with vast swathes of the public sector warning they cannot continue without a pay rise. It’s either negotiate now or watch as thousands of them leave their profession entirely, and where will that leave services like the NHS, or schools, or even bin collection?

If workers are striking and you are inconvenienced, that just goes to show how vital the job they do is. And they should, surely, be properly paid for it.

Read the most recent article written by Louise Wilson - Sketch: Dominic Raab deputises as chief clown

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