By Olivier Devos
LONDON, United Kingdom—Railway and postal staff, dockers too. Britain’s workers are striking in vast numbers as decades-high inflation erodes the value of wages at a record pace.
Britain’s train network faces further heavy disruption Thursday and Saturday in major walkouts that follow the sector’s biggest strike action for 30 years already this summer.
Tens of thousands of staff are expected to strike over the two days, leaving a skeleton train service that will hit holiday-makers and commuters, even if home-working continues for many office staff after COVID restrictions were lifted.
London’s underground railway, the Tube, will be hit by a strike Saturday, ahead of an eight-day stoppage starting Sunday by dockers at Felixstowe, Britain’s largest freight port that is situated in eastern England.
“We will continue to do whatever is necessary to defend jobs, pay and conditions during this cost-of-living crisis,” Sharon Graham, head of major British union, Unite, said this week.
Official data Wednesday showed UK inflation at a 40-year-high above 10 percent, as soaring food and energy prices hurt millions of Britons.
Inflation to keep rising
And the situation is set to worsen under a new prime minister, as under-fire Boris Johnson prepares to step down.
The Bank of England has forecast inflation to top 13 percent this year, tipping the British economy into a deep and long-lasting recession.
“This record fall in real wages demonstrates the vital need for unions like Unite to defend the value of workers’ pay,” Graham said, while hitting out at suggestions, including from BoE governor Andrew Bailey, that pay rises were fueling inflation.
“Wages are not driving inflation,” she insisted ahead of the latest UK inflation data that showed rocketing food prices were the main factor behind July’s spike.
Inflation has soared worldwide this year also on surging energy prices, fueled by the invasion of Ukraine by major oil and gas producer Russia.
Some proposed strikes planned for the British summer have been halted after unions and companies agreed pay deals at the eleventh hour.
But while British Airways ground staff and plane re-fuelers at Heathrow airport have scrapped proposed walkouts, other sectors are holding firm.
More than 115,000 British postal workers employed by former state-run Royal Mail plan a four-day strike from the end of August.
Telecoms giant BT will face its first stoppage in 35 years and walkouts have recently taken place or are soon to occur by Amazon warehouse staff, criminal lawyers and refuse collectors.
Major UK business lobby group, the CBI, this week acknowledged workers’ ongoing “struggle with rising costs like energy prices” and said employers were “doing their level best to support staff.”
It also claimed, however, that “the vast majority” of companies “can’t afford large enough pay rises to keep up with inflation.”
Regarding the part-privatized British railway sector, unions accuse Transport Secretary Grant Shapps of not helping to resolve the impasse.
Shapps is part of the Conservative government that recently amended a law to allow agency staff to help fill gaps caused by strikes, further angering the RMT railway union.
According to Unite, London’s luxury department store Harrods has informed staff that it stands ready to use agency staff in the event of strike action by its workers.
Analysts are meanwhile forecasting sector-wide stoppages to last beyond the summer as inflation keeps on rising.
It comes as teachers and health workers have hinted at possible walkouts should they not receive new pay deals deemed acceptable.