By Adam McCartan
‘TIS the season for upheaval as the UK faces the largest wave of industrial action since the winter of discontent under Margaret Thatcher.
Multiple unions across several industries have balloted to strike, with railway staff, Royal Mail workers, and nurses all walking out in disputes over pay, job security, and working conditions.
The result is what totals near an entire month of industrial action, with every day of December seeing workers walk out.
The blame for this repeat run of the 1970s lays squarely at the feet of the Conservatives, with Rishi Sunak missing numerous chances to resolve the disputes.
The last 12 years has seen consecutive Conservative governments going on a killing spree of our public services, auctioning off Royal Mail in 2013 and further privatising the UK’s gem in the NHS.
The privatisations in our public sector were justified as representing the need of the nation when the Tories took the reins of a Britain in crisis in 2010 – but the effect has been disastrous.
Increasing marketisation of the NHS has seen it lurch admirably from crisis to crisis, due in no large part to understaffing of GPs, nurses, and doctors as consecutive Tory governments cut funding or refused to raise pay in line with inflation.
Finally – and facing a massive crisis of conscience in doing so – nurses have taken to the picket line.
Now this strike could have been avoided with the RCN offering to hold the strike if the government is willing to negotiate in good faith, They were instead met by conspicuous silence from Whitehall, with ministers dismissing the pay rise request of the RNC as unaffordable.
During a Prime Minister’s Questions session earlier this month, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described the nurse strikes as a “badge of shame” for the government – and they’re far from the only sector on strike.
Rail and Royal Mail workers are also striking, causing chaos and delays across the country at one of the busiest times of year for both industries.
The RMT (Railway, Maritime and Transport Union) has announced strikes throughout the entire month of December and into the new year, including a walkout from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day.
The disruption this has caused and will continue to cause has created a stir, but unions will argue it’s for good reason. Railway workers face increased job insecurity with the privatised rail companies such as network rail, planning to cut jobs across their company, all during the cost-of-living crisis in which the UK finds itself post-pandemic.
It all comes back to the cost of living crisis, since the end of the pandemic last year, inflation has steadily risen and public sector wages have been frozen by the government.
While the cost of everyday needs such as food, electric, and most importantly at this time of year, heating have risen by sometimes ridiculous amounts, the pay of nurses and all those taking industrial action hasn’t.
The government has failed to negotiate in good faith. For many striking workers, industrial action is a last resort. Demanding an inflation-matching pay rise is not unreasonable – and it’s time Sunak remembered that.
Featured Image: Roger Blackwell @ Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
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