Strikes Gather Momentum in the UK Summer of Discontent

Workers from nurses to barristers and dockers to posties across Britain are preparing for strikes.

Since the UK inflation spiked earlier this year, there is a possibility of a “summer of discontent”. This refers to 1978’s “winter” of discontent when garbage was left uncollected on the streets and bodies were not buried. The Bank of England is predicting price increases of 13% and momentum is growing.

The patience of commuters as well as holidaymakers will be tested by four days of strikes in public transport. They will begin this weekend and continue for three days. The walkouts will affect large swathes of London’s rail network, the London subway system, and buses in some parts of the capital.

Although the strikes are being handled through official channels, there is an increasing number of cases where workers are striking at their workplaces. This week, the dispute over pay has led to the targeting of the chemical giant Ineos Group in Scotland.

“Unofficial industrial action was taken by contractors at Ineos Grangemouth as part of a nationwide protest,” a spokesperson stated in an email statement after Wednesday’s disruption.

Workers elsewhere are resorting to all sorts of tactics to disrupt activities in the name of higher wages.

Staff at an Inc. warehouse in Tilbury, near London, staged a Walkout this month over the GMB union’s 35 pence per hour pay rise. Protests spread to Dartford depot and five other locations where union members claimed that some members are limiting work to just one hour per member, slowing down output, and continuing to get paid.

Avanti, a train company, has claimed that unofficial labour actions are responsible for the drastic drop in service on the West Coast Main Line connecting London with Birmingham and Manchester. Unions claim that drivers must work overtime to meet the full schedule, which they are not required to.

Tensions between labour groups and bosses are increasing. Royal Mail Plc has accused the Communication Workers Union of “an abdication” of continuing to oppose reforms. It claimed that it would sustain a full year loss if 115,000 postal workers strike over pay.

After ignoring a 2% raise, delivery and sorting employees will be on the verge of walking out in late August and early September. Royal Mail said that it would add 3.5% to its pay if unions agreed to make changes in response to a shift toward parcel deliveries, which will require new working methods.

If unions resist its modernization plans, the company threatened to separate its main postal business and its more profitable international logistic unit.

Separately, nurses raised the possibility of a strike this week. The National Health Service in Britain, a highly-acclaimed institution, is already struggling to cope with huge backlogs after the coronavirus pandemic.

The Royal College of Nursing represents hundreds of thousands of nurses and said that it would vote members on industrial action from Sept. 15 through Oct. 13. 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.

Discontent echoes from Britain’s docks where workers at Felixstowe container ports and Liverpool are dissatisfied with their pay offer to the courts.

The Criminal Bar Association will ballot its members to resolve a long-running dispute over state funding and pay. This would begin Sept. 5. After cuts to legal aid budgets and an unending backlog of cases, barristers have been striking out in a variety of ways.

This situation poses a challenge to the next prime minister, who will be announced by the Conservative party next month. The front-runner Liz Truss has tried to imitate Margaret Thatcher and could face a similar historic clash with the unions if she wins the race to Downing Street.

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