December 04, 2022

Britain’s Working Classes Hit Back Against Mismanagement of Economy

B Arjun

BRITAINS working classes hit back against the mismanagement of the economy.  Moving into this winter, the United Kingdom has been hit by a wave of strikes, involving action by more than a million workers in the public sector led by the major trade unions. Strikes have halted train services, trash collection and port shipments around the country. The country is witnessing the biggest walkouts of the year. The unions are moving closer to coordinated action. Britain hasn't seen this kind of explosion of industrial action, in so many walks of life, in decades. 

Demands for better pay in the face of soaring inflation — at 11 per cent, the highest rate in 40 years — and a more than 80 per cent jump in energy prices have rail, port and postal workers, university lecturers, school teachers and nurses to come out on the streets. The Trades Union Congress argues that on average workers earn less than they did in 2008 - the longest period without an increase in earnings for 200 years. 

The rail workers’ union has announced four 48-hour strikes over the Christmas and new year period. About 40,000 staff from Network Rail and 14 train companies are set to strike work.  The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) has joined the industrial action. RMT is asking for industrial actions in multiple sectors. UKs biggest unions with 2.7 million members in total — are calling for synchronised actions. The postal workers union has announced strike action up until Christmas eve. According to the CWU (Communication Workers' Union), Royal Mails financial problems were due to gross mismanagement and a failed business agenda, ” leading them to cut about 10,000 jobs.  The management is holding the workers to ransom for taking legal industrial action against a business approach that is inimical to the interests of workers, customers or the future of Royal Mail. School teachers in Scotland took part in their first national strike for almost 40 years after dismissing the latest pay offer as an insult” as it is only a 5.07 per cent increase.

The nurses are on strike because of the mistreatment meted out to the fraternity under the pressure of a lobby that wants to privatise the much-acclaimed British National Health Scheme (NHS).  Their pay has stagnated and not kept up with the inflationary trends in the economy. This has resulted in more staff leaving the NHS, adding to the working hours and extra shifts for the nurses in service. Brexit is also responsible for low staff strength at the NHS hospitals as a lot of European nurses left. Despite the stupendous work put in by the health workers during the pandemic, the right-wing government has failed to reward them and has done little to raise their morale. All that the nurses are demanding is a pay hike that is 5 per cent pay above inflation. The neo-liberal ideology and the upswing in the fortunes of the far right have all added to aggravating the plight of the working classes.

The UK is in a recession. Its economy is projected to shrink by over 2 per cent, and not return to its pre-pandemic size until the end of 2024. According to the official estimates, real household incomes are likely to plunge by more than 7 per cent, falling back to levels last seen in 2013-2014. More than half a million people are projected to lose their jobs. 

The far-right ideology with its fake populism and insentience on cultural exceptionalism has done more harm to peoples interests by polarising society and then making people sacrifice the problems at the workplace at the altar of nationalism and communalism.  Difficult times are ahead for Britains workers. The struggle is likely to intensify because the Tories, traditionally less sympathetic to the cause of the working classes, have already said that due to the ongoing economic stress it will be hard to satisfy the workers’ demands. The prime minister, Rishi Sunak has warned of a "profound economic crisis" with "difficult decisions to come" - clearly indicating that it will be difficult to make a more generous pay offer to public sector employees.

The Bank of England that caters more to the interests of shareholders and billionaires has advised the government to overlook the demands of the working classes. Its argument against pay hikes is that it will lead to a "wage-price" spiral and further boost inflation as the employers will pass on the burden to the customers. Britains central bank has been quick to advise on workers’ pay but rarely informs the government how increased defence spending is adversely impacting the economy and well-being of the people.

Despite the economic turmoil, London has said that it will commit spending of 3 per cent to the military sector, up from the current 2.2 per cent level. Earlier, former prime minister Liz Truss' government had announced that defence spending by the end of the decade would see a massive increase, doubling annually to £100 billion ($107 billion) compared with £48 billion ($51 billion) now. 

The need for defence spending is felt due to the elite penchant for strategic overreach.  First, they go and create problems around the world and then talk about enhancing security. For example, Russian president Putin has alleged Royal Naval personnel involvement in the recent attacks on the pipelines in the Baltic Sea. The West has put counter allegations against Putin for blowing up his own pipelines in order to escalate the conflict. Whatever the truth, the fact is that the British foreign policy lacks strategic autonomy and its elite are overzealous to serve American interests. 

As expected, the corporate media is blaming the workers for creating inconvenience to the public due to the intensification of the struggle in Britain. However, the fact is that the current struggle in Britain is helping change the narrative that over the years has defined workplace conflict as some form of aberration or residue of antiquated industrial behaviour.  The neo-liberals had branded organised labour as a relic of the past. The issues of industrial relations were discounted or considered to be insignificant to the current world of work. The good news is that the working classes have hit back.