London: From nurses to barristers, dockers to posties, workers across Britain’s industries and professions are ramping up plans to strike.
The prospect of a so-called summer of discontent - a nod to 1978’s “winter of discontent” when uncollected rubbish piled up in the streets and bodies went unburied - has loomed since UK inflation rose sharply earlier this year. With the Bank of England predicting price rises of 13%, momentum is building.
Four days of public transport strikes will test the patience of commuters and holidaymakers, starting this weekend ahead of three consecutive days of disruption from next Thursday. The walkouts will encompass much of the rail network, London’s subway system and also buses in parts of the capital.
While the looming strikes are being conducted through official channels, there are increasing cases of “wildcat” walkouts, particularly at factories and industrial plants. Chemicals giant Ineos Group has been targeted in Scotland this week amid a dispute over pay.
“A number of contractors employed by third parties took unofficial industrial action at the Ineos Grangemouth site as part of a nationwide protest event,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement following Wednesday’s disruption.
Elsewhere, workers are turning to all manner of tactics to disrupt activity amid the push for higher pay.
Staff at an Amazon.com Inc. warehouse in Tilbury, near London, staged a walkout earlier this month over what the GMB union said amounted to a 35 pence (37 cents) an hour pay increase. The protests spread to depots including Dartford and five other sites where the union said some members were limiting work to one package an hour, slowing output while continuing to get paid.
Train company Avanti has blamed unofficial labour action for a drastic reduction in services on the West Coast Main Line linking London with Birmingham, Manchester and Scotland. Unions say the full timetable depends on drivers working overtime, which they are not obliged to do.
Tensions between bosses and labour groups are heightened. This week, Royal Mail Plc accused the Communication Workers Union of “an abdication of responsibility” for continuing to oppose reforms, saying it will sustain a full-year loss if 115,000 postal workers go ahead with a planned strike over pay.
Delivery and sorting staff will walk out late this month and early September after snubbing a 2% pay rise. Royal Mail has said it will add a further 3.5% if unions agree to changes reflecting a swing toward parcel deliveries requiring new working practices.
The company has even threatened to split the main postal business from its more profitable international logistics unit if unions continue to frustrate its plans to modernise.
Separately this week, nurses raised the prospect of an unprecedented strike, with Britain’s much-vaunted National Health Service already creaking under the strain of huge backlogs following the coronavirus pandemic.
The Royal College of Nursing, which represents hundreds of thousands of nurses, said it would ballot members from Sept. 15 to Oct. 13 on industrial action. A walkout would mark “the first time in RCN history that members in England and Wales go on strike,” the union said in a statement Tuesday.
Rumblings of discontent stretch from the UK’s docks, where workers at Felixstowe and Liverpool container ports are unhappy with pay offers, to the courts.
The Criminal Bar Association plans to ballot members on escalating a long-running spat over state funding and pay into uninterrupted strikes that would commence Sept. 5. Barristers been walking out intermittently following government cuts to the legal aid budget and a record backlog of court cases.
The situation presents an immediate challenge to the next prime minister, who will be revealed by the ruling Conservative party next month. Liz Truss, the front-runner, has sought to emulate Margaret Thatcher - and could find herself facing a similarly historic clash with unions if she wins the keys to Downing Street.