DEMONSTRATIONS AND STRIKE ACTION
June 23, 2022
The past week, has produced the first signs from the British people of protest and resistance to the Johnson Government and the decisions it has made. The first was a demonstration held in Central London last Saturday and the second, a national rail strike.
Demonstrators gathered in Central London, outside the BBC building, to march to Parliament Square, passing through the West End and by Downing Street on the way. This protest organised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), attracted tens of thousands of people, mainly trade unionists. The exact number was not estimated, as it used to be for such events, but first reports said there were hundreds, which was upped to thousands and then tens of thousands. Whatever the number, it was a huge turn-out.
The theme of the march was to demonstrate against rising prices and the increasing rate of inflation, which is forecast to reach 11% by the end of the year, and to highlight the lack of effective action of the Government to deal with this situation. The so-called cost of living crisis, fuelled by rising energy prices, is hitting the lowest paid in Britain hard. The standard of living for many has declined, the use of food banks is increasing, people are having to go without meals and choices between heating one’s home and eating is becoming the everyday options for many. Demonstrators carried banners reading “cut war not welfare” and “end fuel poverty, insulate homes now”.
Many on the march were public service workers, such as teachers and health service employees, who feel that their real take home pay has been kept down since 2010, when Cameron and Osborne introduced pay kerbs for public workers as part of their austerity schemes. One teacher in the demonstration said that “teachers have had a real-terms pay cut of £10,000,” he added that “We now have teaching assistants ringing in saying that they can’t afford to come in. We’ve got admin staff saying we can’t afford the cost of transport to get in.”
A London social worker said that the demand for support has increased, but with reduced government funds, we’re left with very limited options to help people, as the benefits system is broken. “We need benefits to increase as people with children who..… say they don’t know how they’re going to be able to buy food and pay their rent.”
The TUC said there was “harrowing” evidence of the impact of the crisis on families, with workers suffering the “longest and harshest” squeeze on earnings in modern history. Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, said she had heard one story of children keeping back part of their school lunch to take home for their evening dinner. “Prices are skyrocketing, yet boardroom bonuses are back to bumper levels,” she said. “Everyone who works for a living deserves to earn a decent living, but UK workers are suffering the longest and harshest squeeze on their earnings in modern history.
“If we don’t get pay rising across the economy, we will just keep lurching from crisis to crisis. This cost-of-living emergency has not come out of the blue. It is the result of more than a decade of standstill wages.”
Workers have lost an average of almost £20,000 in cumulative earnings since 2008 because pay has not kept pace with inflation, the TUC said, adding that it was the biggest loss of “real wages” since the 1830s.
The demonstration was a plea for the Johnson Government to take some form of positive action and to replace his jingles like, “there are more people in employment” and “we have the highest number of people in work”, with strong positive action aimed at the poorest and the public service workers, who have borne the brunt of Tory austerity.
As well as the demonstration, the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) has called its members to strike for three days this week. The dispute, which mainly effects station staff, maintenance and signalling employees, but not drivers, was called as negotiations with Network Rail, the employer, have failed to make any progress. As well as calling for an 11% pay rise to cover inflation, it wants assurances about job security and redundancies, the result of modernisation of the system. On Tuesday 21 June, up to 50,000 workers across Network Rail, 13 train operators and London Underground walked out. It is Britain’s most widespread industrial action this century, and will reduce services by around 80 per cent as well as being the first nationwide rail strike in over 30 years.
The RMT is striking for three days due to “inability of the rail employers to come to a negotiated settlement…….” RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said in a statement: "Railway workers have been treated appallingly and despite our best efforts in negotiations, the rail industry with the support of the government has failed to take their concerns seriously. We have a cost-of-living crisis, and it is unacceptable for railway workers to either lose their jobs or face another year of a pay freeze when inflation is at 11.1pc and rising. Our union will now embark on a sustained campaign of industrial action which will shut down the railway system.”
This drastic last-ditch action by the Union has been treated with nothing but contempt by the Johnson government, whose only action seems to be to condemn the rail workers and threaten to strike break with agency staff, as well as pitting the rail worker up against workers who will fail to get to work.
Instead of intervening, much in the light of Harold Wilson with his late-night beer and sandwiches, Johnson has decided to take no action to resolve the issue, yet is keen to fan the flames of the dispute. It is his government’s duty to stop the strikes by proactive action, and not just sit back, as he is doing watching the management and union talk round in circles unable to solve the problem, whilst throwing all the blame on the RMT.
It is more than likely that the rail dispute will be the first of many. Teachers, health workers and other public employees, unable to match rising prices with pay increases, have indicated a desire to strike.
The government must open its eyes and see that declining standards of living are a norm in Britain. Nowhere are price rises going to be matched by pay increases. Johnson is sitting back and letting this happen. Fundamental action needs to be taken to stem the rise in prices and turn the tide on inflation. I do not believe that the Prime Minister has the heart or the ability to take on this challenge and the people who suffer are the hard working poor.