INDUSTRIAL ACTION STRIKING HEADLINES
Due to the economic challenges caused by the rate of inflation, the cost of living crisis has brought devastating impacts on households across the country, hitting the most vulnerable and poorest the hardest. It is no surprise that people have now resorted to striking, desperate to be able to afford the basics. Around 45% of adults have found paying energy bills difficult to some degree according to the Office for National Statistics in September. Some criticise the government, like the Secretary-General of the national union RMT Mick Lynch, comparing the government to a “lingering” “bad smell”. However, according to the BBC, Grant Shapps, the former Transport Secretary, believes that the union strike is “damaging people’s lives'', and on twitter expressed that the rail industry must “move on with the times''. Yet, with many skipping meals in order to feed their children, how can people not urge the government to increase wages?
On the first of October, passengers had felt the effects of the 24-hour walkout staged by the four trade unions. The walk out of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT), Alsef, Unite and Transport Salaried Staff’s Association (TSSA) was expected to cause the worst rail disruption of the year, with only 11% of services running. This happened the day before the London Marathon was going to take place, causing disruption and travel chaos for some of the 40,000 runners who were going to participate, making it difficult to even get to the starting line.
This also took place on the second day of the Royal Mail staff walk out. The Communication Workers Union said that it was the biggest national strike of any sector this year, with 115,000 walking out over pay and conditions on the 30th of September and 1st of October. With the strike affecting 21 days, the Union predicts that it will have a “dramatic impact” on many busy periods such as black friday, cyber monday, and Christmas shopping (the worst being on the 30th September, the 1st, 13th, 20th and 25th of October as well as the 28th of November, as they involve delivery and collection staff). The Union’s general secretary said that the “significant announcement” matches the “level of anger our members feel at the way the Royal Mail Group has treated them”.
On the 8th of October, only 20% of train services ran across Britain as Rail workers continued their strikes (including staff at Network Rail) making it the 11th day of the year. Over 40,000 RMT members at 15 train operating companies had been on strike until midnight that day. The RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch sent a letter to the former Transport Secretary Anne Marie Trevelyan, in which he wrote “your government must unshackle the train operators” . According to the BBC, a spokesperson from the department for transport urged that “all strikes will do is punish the very people unions claim to stand up for and push passengers further away”.
The London Poppy Day Fundraiser which should raise £1m was originally declared to “not go ahead as planned” due to rail strikes, according to The Royal British Legion. It would have consisted of 2,000 personnel, veterans and volunteers in 70 different locations. However, Network Rail had decided to re-arrange the strike happening on the 3rd of November to the 9th of November after realising the clash with the fundraiser. The RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said that “I call upon the new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to unshackle the rail industry so they can come to a settlement with RMT”
Ambulance workers in the NHS are also potentially going on strike. More than 115,000 Ambulance workers had started voting for a strike action across England and Wales. However, after an improved proposed deal from the Scottish Government on the 21st of October, Unison, Scotland’s largest health union, had decided to suspend the strike ballot in order to consult the new deal. According to NHS Scotland on the Scottish Government website, the Scottish Government has committed a financial envelope of £480m, which would allow a pay rise of 7% for NHS staff through a flat pay rise of £2205 for all AfC staff.
This comes as research from London Economics commissioned by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) finds that an experienced nurse’s salary has fallen 20% in real terms since 2010. This effectively means that nursing staff are working one day a week for free, based on a five-day working week. In the report, it suggests that the decrease in real salaries are “strongly associated” with increases in the leaver rate. The RCN General Secretary and Chief executive, Pat Cullen, said “This exploitation of nursing staff cannot be tolerated any longer”.
Even some patients share the same views on the treatment of the NHS. On the 28th of October, during a visit to Croydon University Hospital, The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, was confronted by the 77 year old patient Catherine Poole, who was recovering from surgery. When asked about how the staff were treating her, she said “it’s a pity you don’t pay them more”, and when the Prime Minister told her that “we are trying”, she said “No, you are not trying, you need to try harder,”.
October has been a month of constant mayhem as it features many strikes, industrial action taken by a variety of workers struggling due to the cost of living crisis. Many have displayed their displeasure against strikes as it continues to cause disruption across the country, however many feel that it is necessary in order to bring about much needed change. October may have come to a conclusion, but there are more strikes yet to come.