Britain’s rail, mail and dock workers are launching strikes in vast numbers as 40-year-high inflation erodes the value of wages at a record pace.
Britain’s train network faces further heavy disruption on Thursday and Saturday in major walkouts that follow the sector’s biggest strike action for 30 years already this summer.
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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.
London’s Underground railway, commonly known as the Tube, will be hit by a strike on Saturday, ahead of an eight-day stoppage starting on Sunday by dockers at Felixstowe, Britain’s largest freight port, located 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 on 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 Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey, that pay rises were driving 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 on surging energy prices, fuelled 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 11th hour.
But while British Airways ground staff and plane refuellers at Heathrow airport have scrapped proposed walkouts, other sectors are holding firm.
More than 115,000 British postal workers employed by the formerly 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 partially privatised 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.