Why is there a winter of discontent in UK?

We’ve just come out of summer and autumn with rail and postal strikes, now we face strike action planned by Nurses, Teachers, Train drivers, Emergency services, Ambulance drivers, Civil Servants, all jumping on the bandwagon

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Snow is predicted to fall across the country this winter [ File Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]

The widespread industrial unrest in the run up to Christmas and into January 2023, is nothing new, as workers all over Britain demand better pay and working conditions. Their leverage is to cause the most amount of tolerance, inconvenience and resilience.

We’ve just come out of summer and autumn with rail and postal strikes, now we face strike action planned by Nurses, Teachers, Train drivers, Emergency services, Ambulance drivers, Civil Servants, all jumping on the bandwagon. After a decade of wage stagnation workers across the country are now calling for pay rises that match inflation. However, it is fair to say, that during the past decade inflation was below 2 %, but has now overshot expectation.  

The last time there was a winter of discontent that I can remember?

I reckon it was during the days of Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan.

I can remember the winter between November 1978 and February 1979 when rubbish on the streets piled up, not cleared for days, perhaps, weeks as “Bin men” Council workers went on strike. First, it was the private and later the public sector Trade Union workers, demanding Pay rises greater than offered by the Labour government. It was no joke, when lights used to flicker as power cuts made us to keep candles at the ready. Domestic services in hospitals were on poverty wages of £39.50 per week at that time.

We cannot of course, compare today’s scenario to either the days of the General Strike of 1926 or the strike in 1978/79. But, a picture is building of what this winter 2022/23 will look like.

Why the strikes in NHS, in particular?

How many of you know that 25,000 Nursing staff left their job in the past year, with staff shortages affecting patient safety?

How many know there are 47,000 unfilled NHS Registered Nursing posts in England alone?

Has this shortage anything to do with the minimum 5, sometimes 10 hour wait at A& E wards in hospitals up and down the country?

Nurses in UK are going on strike for the first time, the first official strike in their 106 year history, on 15 and 20th December 2022. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) announced it has reluctantly called a national strike over pay and patient safety. It said their action will be as much for patients as it is for nurses.

Emergency care will still be provided, under a “life–preserving care model,” but routine services are expected to be affected by the strike. RCN stated the level of service during walk outs will be that dialysis and planned surgery cancelled.

Nurses are paid according to their level of seniority and how many years’ experience they have. The Nursing career is not a bed of roses, but a bed of patience?

For those who hope to apply to fill these empty nursing posts, almost all nursing staff are on contracts under a system introduced in 2004 to bring together different pay scales across the NHS.

A newly qualified Nurse under 2 years’ experience earns £27,055 in England, topped up by London Weighting Allowance rising to £32,934 after four (4) years. A Senior Nurse – Matron earns £48,526 to £54,619 after five (5) years.

RCN Nursing Union is asking for 19 % pay rise. This Union wants a rise of rise of 4.5% above the Retail Price Index (RPI); a pay hike of 19.2%, which the Government says is unaffordable and unacceptable. National inflation is currently at 12.6%,

The Government accepted the Independent Pay Service body recommendation for 1 million workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year equivalent around 4 to 5% for most nurses.

The Government also states that for every one (1) percent rise it costs £700 million taking the total demand to £10 billion or 6.5 % of the total NHS Budget.

When are some of the other Unions on strike?

Railways, 40 million RMT members –

Walk out on December 13-14; 16-17; January 3-4; 5-7, 2023.

Postal Workers, 120 million CMU members –

Walk out on November 30; December 1, 9, 11, 13-15; 17, 23-24.

Buses in London, Unite Members –

Almost 1000 bus drivers to stage a series of strikes for 10 intermittent days in December.

Teachers   750,000 NEU and NASUWT members –

Balloting for strike action voting closing on 9 and 13th January 2023.

Emergency Services – 15 million Ambulance Staff/ Para Medic members, also thinking of strike action, of some sort, perhaps, a work to rule.

Will strikes cripple Britain?

The Unions believe that the wave of strikes hitting “every sector of the economy” this winter, will help get a square deal for their members.

But neither the Government, nor the General Public believe, that other being greatly inconvenienced, they will not be “broken”?

The Government wants a fair deal to keep the economy afloat; while “what the people expect, is that they get at least a square meal in a round can,” this Christmas, at an affordable price.

Victor Cherubim

Victor Cherubim is a London-based writer and a frequent columnist of the Sri Lanka Guardian

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