The U.K. is facing another ‘winter of discontent’

In a time of real-terms pay cuts, we should support the workers who are striking for fairer wages and job security. A blog written by Harry Window – HPC researcher.

They say that the Grinch stole Christmas – but this time it was probably the failings of government and profiteering business owners that have taken the presents from under your tree and the trimmings from your dinner.

This year Christmas joy is in short supply as the UK faces a winter of growing discontent. Indignation is the prevailing national mood, where a cost-of-living crisis is exacerbated by a real-terms pay cut for workers across the board. The financial pressures of an already burdensome Christmas will be ever more extreme this year. This bleak winter will be one of smaller Christmas dinner portions, as the nation attempts to balance precarious household budgets. Research from the TUC has shown that the cost of Christmas dinner food has risen three times faster than wages, where Christmas staples have risen by 18%, whilst wages have only gone up 5% in the year.

Such extortionate rises undoubtedly hit poorer households hardest, as their income is already disproportionately focussed on essential outgoings. Food price inflation is not the only issue though – cooking this dinner will be much more expensive than last year due to the extreme rise in energy prices. Households will be worried about the cost of these energy prices when it comes to decisions about keeping warm this winter. In a developed economy, we should feel shame at the notion of vulnerable members of our society choosing whether they can afford to heat their homes.

Dwindling consumer confidence will mean that discretionary spending is impacted, and cutbacks will be made. This will curtail Christmas spending and will have a huge impact on our economy.

For many this situation is an unprecedented crisis which requires urgent attention and support. Yet the majority feel like neither their employers nor the government are acting with the urgency or efficacy required.

Frustration and impatience has grown as workers try to combat rising prices and stagnating wages. There has been no choice but to combat their indifference through organised industrial action. As a result, the U.K’s Christmas calendar is packed with disruptive strikes. Workers will attempt to leverage their unified discontent as a means by which they can bargain for fairer pay and better conditions. Currently, real terms pay cuts, and the burdens of increasing workloads, is not a sustainable relationship. 

The issues are most desperate in the public sector. The growing differential between private and public sector pay is ever more painful. This will inevitably affect the recruitment and retention of staff that public services so desperately need. Failure to address the issue will increase the pressure on already strained public service provision. These are the workers that our country desperately depends on to function. Whilst no one expects to gain exorbitant wealth from nursing, being able to eat and heat your home is the bare minimum. It is shameful that nurses and other healthcare workers are being forced to turn to foodbanks, just to cover the basics. That’s why over 300,000 nurses will join an unprecedented strike. The rhetoric of NHS heroes and key workers has quickly evaporated when the crisis is an economic one.

Joining the industrial action will be ambulance drivers, technicians, call handlers and paramedics who are set to strike in the lead up to Christmas. The government’s persistent stubbornness to address dwindling wages has brought our NHS staff to their knees. However, this is not just about pay, but also public safety too. Funding cuts are also impacting the service provision for the public, where chronic underfunding is creating a scarcely resourced health service. 

The public will expect threadbare services across winter. Further strikes affecting trains and buses have been announced, alongside airport workers, meaning travel across the country will be affected. The CWU has balloted postal workers, whose absence will notably affect the delivery of presents across the festive period. 

Industrial action is not simply just a matter about pay. Strikes are about poverty, hunger, and insecurity. They are about inequality and a duty to fairness. Further, strikes demand that our public services get the adequate funding they so desperately need. The workers who we rely on have endured over a decade of stagnating wages, and are now threatened by seriously declining living standards. The provision of public services is weak, and the NHS faces a growing backlog of cases with dwindling resources to address it. It is therefore imperative that the narrative around striking workers is one of support and solidarity.