This December there are 30 days of strikes planned, backed by 11 of the country’s biggest unions: Unite, Unison, GMB, CWU, RMT, PCS, The Royal College of Nursing and the National Education Union.
First and foremost, let me make it clear: striking is an act of last resort. No-one willingly goes on strike – it is costly, difficult and emotionally hard on those striking. Above all striking is a huge sacrifice that takes a lot of personal courage, determination and effort.
Legal rules around striking mean that a strike needs support from over 40% of eligible union members for it to even happen. So when a strike is called there is always a very good reason for it.
In recent weeks we have seen strikes from our Royal Mail posties, BT Openreach workers, rail workers and now nurses and teachers.
There are many different reasons for the strikes we are seeing – not all are about pay but it’s a hard fact that worker’s pay has seen very little movement since 2010 and some workers, for example NHS nurses, are now earning less than they did ten years ago. Yet the cost of living keeps going up and up.
So do the profits. Shareholders and CEOs are reaping the benefits of wage suppression, with take home pay for Chief execs and dividends for investors going through the roof. It’s this inequality that is so unfair and paying dividends instead of wages is taking advantage of the very people whose efforts are generating those profits in the first place.
Political talk about tightening our belts and managing our spending don’t hold water when it’s only those on the frontline that are expected to live by these rules. It is time for everyone to play their part, which means paying taxes and paying fair wages to employees.
Meanwhile we have increasing energy costs, escalating food prices and unaffordable rents taking a bigger and bigger bite out of our weekly wages. Add to that job insecurity, zero-
hours contracts, flexible working and on-demand shift patterns and there is a crisis brewing here.
Front line workers: rail drivers and guards, posties, nurses and teachers – these hard working people took care of us all when the country was facing the pandemic, giving everything – even their lives in some cases – to keep our essential services running. Now they are asking for us to take care of them.
It’s not always about pay though. Take my colleagues down at Müller who have been on strike over changes to their rotas which see the management of this “family friendly” company telling their drivers that they must work every single weekend of the year, with next to no chance of any time with their own families, not even once a month. That is plainly unfair and unreasonable.
What’s more it’s a direct breach of the agreement they signed up to with my union Unite and we are challenging this at the highest levels.
Paying workers a reasonable wage is good for everyone. Every last pound of that pay packet goes straight back into the local economy – it’s not salted away in some offshore vault. What’s more workers pay their taxes, which means more of their money goes back into public services. Investing in workers is investing in this country.
Unions are good for us all – they gave us the weekends, they brought an end to child labour, they gave us bank holidays, minimum wages, sick pay, redundancy and paid maternity/paternity leave, not to mention improved health and safety in the workplace. Every single person in this country has had their lives improved by the efforts – hard fought for and won – of our unions over the years. Collective bargaining is important and the right to withdraw our labour is often the only way for us workers to be heard. We owe it to striking workers to give them our full support.
Unions stand for better working conditions, for safer conditions for everyone and they make this country a better place to live and work in.
It’s time to stand by your union and if you haven’t joined one yet, sign up now. There’s a union for everyone, whether you are in work or not, employed, self-employed or retired.
Cllr Trevor Hall (Community Independents, Dursley)
Cllr Doina Cornell (Community Independents, Dursley)
Cllr Robin Drury-Layfield (Community Independents, Rodborough)
Cllr Colin Fryer (Community Independents, Cam West)