From the Royal Mail to the RMT, it seems like industries are striking left, right and centre at the moment– and for good reason. It’s gone over no one’s head the dire financial strait this country is in, with inflation at a 40 year high of 10.1% (which means that essentials like food are more expensive) and the Bank of England warns that this could increase still to upwards of 13%.
This cost of living crisis underpins what many media outlets have been calling the ‘summer of strikes’, with many unions calling for a pay rise in line with the current rate of inflation. The Trades Union Congress – which represent 48 unions with roughly 5.5 million members – has called for a “decent pay rise for public sector workers” and a £15 an hour minimum wage across the board.
Why strikes, why not another type of action that doesn’t inconvenience the general public
The vast majority of those striking are public sector workers, with the most notable unions being the RMT (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) who organised the train strikes and the CWU (Communication Workers Union) who represent the Royal Mail workers that have been striking. But while this wave of industrial action publicly started with these unions, it by no means ends with them. Dock workers in Felixstowe and Liverpool are striking, waste management workers in London and Edinburgh are too. Barristers, BT workers, bus workers and tube workers are similarly acting and at the risk of sounding like that one Billy Joel song I won’t list any other industries, but this list is in no way definitive.
The question often levelled at these unions is why strikes, why not another type of action that doesn’t inconvenience the general public as much, considering they’re not the union’s targets. This is a question that is regularly levelled at the most well known – and therefore the most controversial – union of the year, the RMT. So, I’ll let Mick Lynch – the general secretary of the RMT- tell you why.
In response to someone questioning why the RMT don’t carry on running the train services but refuse to collect fares, thereby affecting the companies not the people (also known as a revenue strike), Lynch said: “we would love to do that type of action, but guess what? The conservative government has made that illegal for decades. We cannot do that. If we do that they will sequestrate my union, fine us millions of pounds and shut us down… We would love to run the service, even at the cost of sacrificing some of our pay… so we can run the system on behalf of the people and be empathetic with their needs… [but] we are blocked from doing that by law.”
Personally I’d take a few days of disruption when it furthers a worthwhile cause
That is the case across the board. The only types of industrial action that are still legal for unions to carry out are strikes and action short of a strike, which is where you do exactly what’s in your job description and nothing more (i.e. no overtime). I’ll accept that striking may not always seem like the best course of industrial action (but there’s no other type of action unions can take) and I’ll similarly accept that strikes are at best cumbersome to the general public and worst extremely disruptive, but personally I’d take a few days of disruption when it furthers a worthwhile cause.
Some may argue that ever since Liz Truss announced her £2.5K yearly energy cap, the cause becomes a bit less worthwhile as part of the cost of living crisis is partially alleviated. However, inflation is still going up -as are interest rates– and I honestly don’t see what’s wrong with wanting to be paid more for the job you do, it’s not like these companies can’t afford it. If anything, the disruption strikes cause show how dependent we are on the workers that keep our infrastructure going, and I would argue we should reward that dependency with a substantial salary instead of the very few at the very top reaping the rewards of other’s hard work.
Take for example the Royal Mail, who made £726m in profits last year (profits that were boosted by the demands for delivery services in the pandemic, profits they wouldn’t have been able to achieve without their workers continuing to work throughout that time) and who paid their CEO £753,000. These are the same people that are now refusing to give those workers a paise rise in line with inflation. We all remember those banners during Covid thanking our key workers for keeping the country moving, so maybe it’s time we thanked those workers a little more substantially: with a pay rise.
Featured image courtesy of Clem Onojeghuo via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.
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