On the march in London during the teachers’ strike earlier this month (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Workers held 2.8 million strike days during the six months of the “winter of discontent” from October last year.

New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which underplay the extent of workers’ action, showed 556,000 strike days in March alone. That was up from 332,000 in February. 

The six-month total is a peak since 1989. It’s hugely welcome that more workers have refused to accept assaults on their cost of living and are fighting back.

But there is still a very long way to go. According to the TUC union federation, real wages—after taking inflation into account—are still below where they were in 2008. This underlines that inflation is not caused by wage rises but by a crisis of the system, capitalist chaos in supply chains and profiteering by giant firms.

Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket, has grabbed £3 billion in profit in two years, while their shareholders celebrated a £1 billion share buyback bonanza.

Recent Unite union research analyses the top 350 companies on the London stock market. It shows that profit margins for the first half of 2022 were 89 percent higher compared to the same period in 2019

Workers on average have lost more than £1,000 in real terms from their pay over the last year—and that’s using the government’s preferred inflation figure. Using the more accurate RPI one, it’s £1,250.

That’s a brutal assault, but bosses and bankers want to go much further. Speaking this week, Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey said “Near-term indicators suggest that pay growth could ease further later this year”—translated that means bigger wage cuts are coming. 

In an effort to slash inflation and stop strikes, the Bank of England is deliberately crashing the economy through raising interest rates. The first signs of the result is a rise in the unemployment rate according to these new figures.  

Workers need many more strike days, well beyond the numbers tallied this week. They have to be more than spaced-out actions over many months with a day here and a day there that doesn’t put enough pressure on bosses and the Tories.

And they mustn’t end in rotten deals that accept big pay cuts. That’s why the revolt by workers in the RCN, CWU and UCU unions against their union leaders’ efforts to sell the struggle short are so important.

Link the Fights, Reject Bad Deals, Fight to Win. Called by Lambeth and Hackney NEU, NHS Workers Say No, London UCU and Strike Club. Friday 19 May, 6pm, Rich Mix 35- 47 Bethnal Green Road London E1 6LA See bit.ly/NoBadDeals1905
Emergency protest against the new anti-strikes law, Monday 22 May, 6pm, Parliament Square, London. Called by the TUC

A sick economy

In the same set of figures there is terrible confirmation of the savaging of the NHS and the continuing effects of Covid. The number of people who say they are not looking for work because of long-term ill health rose by 86,000 in the first three months of 2023 to a record 2.55 million. That’s 438,000 higher than it was before the start of the pandemic three years ago.

But such trends aren’t just about Covid and recent cuts. A recent report from the Institute for Public Policy Research think tank said the death rate from all causes fell between 1990 and 2011, but then started to rise. 

The prevalence of cancer, diabetes, depression and hypertension all increased in the 2010s. In 1960, Britain ranked seventh for life expectancy among the rich nation members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. By 2020 it had dropped to 23rd.

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