In the UK, workers are striking for a number of reasons. They’re fighting for better pay and working conditions, They are seeking higher wages in order to keep up with the rising cost of living. The average UK worker has seen their real wages fall by 10% since 2008, while the cost of living has risen by more than 20%. This means that workers are struggling to make ends meet and many are increasingly reliant on food banks and other forms of charity. The strikers are also calling for an end to zero-hours contracts, which leave workers unable to predict their income from one month to the next. These contracts can make it very difficult to budget and save for unexpected expenses. The strike action is unprecedented in recent years and is a sign of the growing frustration of workers who feel that they are being made to pay the cost of inept political leadership and economic management.
The prices of essentials like food and housing have been rising faster than wages for years, and people are struggling to make ends meet. The strikers believe that the only way to address the cost of living crisis is to fight for higher wages and better working conditions. By doing so, they hope to make life better for all those affected by the crisis.
Battle lines are being drawn
Unions are prepared to fight against real-term wage cuts for their members. There are some big battles on the way and everyone will have to decide which side they are on. For us it’s simple – we are on the side of the workers and against those who’ve caused the cost of living crisis and now expect ordinary people to pay for their mistakes. Here is a breakdown of some of the battles to come.
Around 50,000 rail workers in the RMT, Aslef, and TSSA unions are fighting over below-inflation pay offers, job cuts, and working conditions. RMT members are planning three 24-hour strikes on Wednesday 27 July, Wednesday 18 August, and Saturday 20 August. The union is also in dispute with Network Rail over plans to cut 1,500 jobs and close ticket offices. Aslef members are planning a 24-hour strike on Saturday 30 July. The union is in dispute with eight train operating companies over pay, rostering arrangements, and the introduction of driver-only operated trains. TSSA members are balloting for industrial action. The union is in dispute with Network Rail over pay and working conditions. All three unions are also in dispute with London Underground over the closure of ticket offices and the introduction of all-night Tube services. Industrial action is likely to cause widespread disruption to rail services across the country.
Posties and communication workers
Nearly all Royal Mail workers who voted supported going on strike in a huge 97.6 percent landslide, making it clear they are ready to battle their bosses. The Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) members backed strikes by an overwhelming margin on a turnout of 77 percent in their fight against the imposition of a 2 percent pay increase by management. No strike days have been announced yet by the CWU. This follows other recent high-profile industrial disputes such as British Airways. Given the government’s attacks on workers’ rights, union membership has been growing recently as people look to emulate the success of French workers in fighting back against austerity. With such a massive show of support from CWU members, management at Royal Mail will be under pressure to start negotiating seriously or face the possibility of widespread disruption to mail services across the country.
Public service workers
PCS union members are demanding a 10 percent pay increase and a minimum wage of at least £15 an hour. The ballot is set to begin on 26 September and run for six weeks until 7 November. If the workers vote in favour of strike action, it could mean serious disruption for government departments across the UK. The union has already taken industrial action this year, with walkouts happening in May and June. Talks between the PCS and the government have so far failed to reach an agreement, with the union accusing the government of offering “derisory” pay rises. The workers are also angry about job losses and cuts to workplace benefits, such as pensions. With no end to the dispute in sight, it looks like we could see more industrial action from the PCS in the near future.
Teachers across schools in England will be consulted on strikes in the autumn. The Tory government wants to impose a 5 percent increase on teachers after recommendations from the School Teachers’ Review Body. When? NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said the union would consult members on strikes in the autumn with “the largest ballot of teachers for a generation”. Meanwhile, the NASUWT said its executive would meet on September 14 to consider ballots for action. What’s the problem? Teachers say they have faced a real-terms pay cut since 2010 and that their pay has fallen behind other graduate professions. They also argue that increased workload and mounting pressure are making the profession unsustainable. The government says it has increased funding for schools and that teachers’ pay is a matter for individual headteachers. However, headteachers say they are being forced to make cuts because of reductions in funding. Low morale among teachers is having an impact on pupils, with around two-thirds of teachers saying they are considering leaving the profession, according to a recent survey.
The Tories are at it again! This time, they’re trying to push through a real-terms pay cut for NHS workers in England. With over one million NHS staff affected, including nurses, paramedics, and midwives, this is sure to be a controversial move.
Under the Tories’ plans, NHS workers would receive a pay increase of £1,400 a year. However, when inflation is taken into account, this actually amounts to a real-term pay cut of £200 a year for porters, £1,100 for nurses, and £1,500 for paramedics. The main health unions are understandably up in arms about this proposal.
It’s yet another example of the Tories’ complete disregard for the vital role that NHS staff play in our society. We all rely on the NHS when we’re sick or injured, and these dedicated workers deserve to be fairly compensated for their hard work. Imposing a pay cut on them is nothing short of disgraceful.
Fire and Rescue
The FBU union’s executive council has unanimously rejected a 2 percent pay offer from fire and rescue employers. The council says the offer is “insulting” and that plans are being prepared to develop a campaign for decent pay, including the possibility of strike action. With firefighters already among the lowest-paid workers in the public sector, the union is adamant that its members deserve a fair deal. It remains to be seen whether the employers will budge on their offer, but one thing is clear – the FBU is ready to fight for a better deal for its members.
Solidarity union backs our brothers and sisters 100 percent. We must back the strikes however we can. We must encourage other workers outside traditional union structures to organise and take action and co-ordinate our efforts. The strikers are fighting for us all by making it clear that ordinary people will not suffer impoverishment and cuts to their wages to pay for the mistakes of those who misgovern us. Political leaders haven’t fought for the people. The unions must.
By Patrick Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity union