2022 – Can strikes solve the cost-of-living crisis for UK workers? | Owen Jones

TBritain is a low strike society, and a low wage economy is no crazy coincidence. Poverty on the job has reached record levels, in large part because days lost in strikes are at record lows. When unions were crushed in the 1980s by a combination of legislation, defeat, and mass unemployment, we lost our most effective means of ensuring that workers got a fair share of the pie they were making.

That is why Boris Johnson’s declaration that work is the best way out of poverty is misleading the nation from the prime minister’s podium. Most people live in poverty and work. He may boast healthy employment numbers, but the fact that they are accompanied by an unprecedented crisis in living standards exposes the inequality that exists in our economic model because people’s wages cannot handle rising price inflation.

Millions of workers are deprived of their comfortable livelihood in large part because organizing for better wages and working conditions has become intentionally more difficult. The Tory plan to further weaken the already faltering labor movement must be seen as yet another attack on workers’ living standards.

Ministers threaten legislation to make effective strikes illegal in response to the election of members of the National Union of Railroads, Maritime and Transport in support of the industrial strike. The motive for the proposed action is quite simple: a wage freeze – or given inflation is at a four-decade high of 9%, a real wage cut – and 2,500 job losses.

Those opposing the measure highlight the allegedly exorbitant salaries of train drivers, which range from £20,000 to £65,000. They’re the same people, of course, who grumble about the “politics of envy” when rising millionaire paychecks are challenged. But train drivers’ wages are advertising to me hit and not against. By striking – rather than resigning – the drivers were able to raise their wages.

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey has urged workers to practice ‘pay moderation’: a simple requirement to make when he gets paid half a million a year, rather than say a caregiver of £17,000, which is about 30 times less. However, the price hike was not caused by rising wages, but by supply chain problems in China, rising energy costs, and windfall profits for companies.

Workers’ response to a crisis imposed on them should not be a rigid acceptance of their lot. Unfortunately we had too much. According to the Center for Higher Pay, the median CEO earns 111 times more than the lowest-paid worker. We spend tens of billions of pounds on welfare every year, and personal debt has risen to unprecedented levels.

Union workers benefit from what is known as a “wage premium” of between 10% and 15%, while unions withdraw wages for non-union workers. The government has no shortage of tools to tackle the cost of living crisis, such as b-raising minimum wages and Social Security benefits, but strengthening unions is a no-brainer. Finally, does anyone really believe that countries like Sweden – where nine out of ten workers are covered by collective agreements and where living standards are much higher than ours – are economic disasters?

Expect an escalating media attack against the unions. Ours is a society in which the working class is demonized because they are so weak – because they are supposed to sink into poverty, because they do not aspire; And because they are too strong to dare to fight for a fair share of the wealth that graft creates.

Yes, strikes are uncomfortable, but is a day of turmoil a more painful turmoil in the lives of millions of people than leaving workers without enough money to pay their bills or provide for their families?

If Britain’s train drivers are to set an example, they must inspire workers to respond. Low wages are a scandal and a national emergency, and they can be addressed if workers have the strength to claim what is rightfully theirs. If train drivers have the courage to reject wage cuts, a workforce that has endured stagnation and decline must have for far too long.

Owen Jones is a columnist for The Guardian