Britain is facing a wave of coordinated industrial action by striking unions this autumn in protest at the escalating cost of living crisis, the Observer can reveal.
A series of motions tabled by the country’s biggest unions ahead of the TUC Congress next month demand that they work closely together to maximize their impact and ‘win’ the fight for inflation-linked pay rises.
The move, which includes the two biggest unions, Unison and Unite, comes amid growing anger over the government’s failure to agree a detailed package of family support after Friday’s announcement that the bills gas and electricity averages will increase by 80%.
While coordinated action would not be a ‘general strike’ called by some union leaders, Unite’s motion would give the TUC the task of ensuring that walkouts are timed or deliberately staggered to have the greatest impact.
Backed by rail union RMT – which has led its members in a series of strikes in recent weeks – and the Communication Workers Union, which took action on Friday, Unite calls on the TUC to “facilitate and encourage industrial coordination between unions so that conflict workers can most effectively harness their union power to win”.
Another motion from Unison, the country’s biggest union, says the cost of living crisis is a ‘low pay crisis’ and also calls for the TUC to coordinate union action to campaign for pay rises ‘at least in line with inflation’ – now 10.1% – as well as a minimum wage of £15 per hour.
The signs of unrest underscore the scale of the problem now facing the next Conservative Prime Minister, Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak, as soaring energy costs push inflation even higher. Labor activism will also put Keir Starmer, the Labor leader, in a difficult position. He recently asked his deputies not to support the rail strikes.
Starmer, whose party receives much of its funding from unions, is due to deliver his first speech in person as leader of the TUC Congress which opens in Brighton on September 11.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham, whose 1,900 docker members at Felixstowe, the country’s largest port, are off work for eight days, cited the example of the ongoing rail dispute, which she says , was “critical” that the RMT win.
“If we went on strike on the buses, why wouldn’t we coordinate the two things? she told the Observer. “You want to make sure that we provide as much support as possible. Now it is the role of the TUC to see you do this.
Graham clarified that she was not talking about illegal secondary action – one uncontested union supporting another that is – but rather coordination between unions whose members voted to strike in disputes. separate salaries.
Within her own multi-sector union, she said, the docks at Felixstowe and Liverpool, both mandated for industrial action over separate wage demands, could well be on strike at the same time. “If it helps them both strike together, why not you?” »
Ministers will be alarmed at the scale of potential strikes reflected in the TUC motions.
In response to the government’s plans to cut 91,000 civil service jobs, the First Division Association, representing senior civil servants, calls on the next prime minister to abandon “the destructive approach of arbitrary job cuts”, while the Public and Commercial Services Union calls on the TUC to ‘support industrial action to prevent job cuts and to coordinate such action with other unions in conflict where possible’.
With the unrest spreading, the GMB union is set to vote with more than 50,000 school support staff on whether to accept a £1,925 pay rise offered by government employers local. The GMB is also voting more than 100,000 local government workers on their pay deal, while the Royal College of Nursing prepares to consult with its members on whether they would be prepared to go on strike.
Senior government sources said Truss, the likely winner of the Tory leadership race, would be ready to organize an emergency budget with measures to help people with energy costs ‘very soon’ after the announcement of the winner on September 5.
While Truss said during the election campaign that her priority was to offer tax cuts and not ‘handouts’, in recent days she also made it clear that she would help those most in need – without specifying what that would be. would imply.
George Eustice, the environment secretary, said yesterday that people ‘don’t have long to wait’ but added that Truss and Sunak ‘will want to look at all the options, properly costed’.