London, United Kingdom – When British lawyers said they would strike, the public was divided.
Many questioned their motive, given that they are widely regarded as well-paid legal professionals, while others said the move was justified as the UK’s economic outlook deteriorated and in the context of their particular protest.
Thousands of criminal lawyers representing defendants receiving state-funded legal aid will strike from next week, indefinitely, escalating their years-long dispute with the Justice Department over what they say be inadequate pay and conditions.
“It’s just now or never,” Grace Cowell, a young lawyer joining the strikes, told Al Jazeera.
“There’s such a big cat lawyer narrative, but you look at people who just do [legal aid-funded cases]the average salary for the first three years of their career is 12,200 pounds [$14,400 a year].
“We’re going to end up with…the same people who have a trust fund and can, frankly, afford not to make money.”
According to the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), lawyers’ incomes have fallen by around 30% since 2006 and many of them have personal debts.
The strike comes as fears of crippling wage inflation rock Britain, one of the world’s wealthiest nations.
Analysts predict the rate of price increases could climb to 18% next year, a 50-year high, as energy costs rise. Inflation rates hit 10.1% in July, five times the Bank of England’s target.
Frustrated by stagnating wages for a decade, it’s not just lawyers who are taking action.
Throughout the British summer, as temperatures hit record highs, so did the anger.
Employees in several sectors went on strike or voted for industrial action, including public transport staff, postmen and women, teachers, journalists, cargo port workers and, in Scotland, garbage collectors .
“[The] the government has known about low pay levels for years because we have taken action on it for years, and yet they have failed to address it,” a CBA spokesperson said. at Al Jazeera.
“We asked for 25% long before the inflation problem, because we have seen our average income drop by 28% in a decade. So we were already late.
“They are [criminal barristers] not expecting more sympathy than anyone else, but they expect rates of pay as one would expect a doctor to be paid properly for the specialist work he does do.
Seventy-nine per cent of CBA members voted for the strike, which will coincide with the announcement of a new Conservative Party leader and prime minister to replace scandal-hit Boris Johnson.
While the Justice Department proposed a 15% increase in fees, the ABC said that was insufficient because the rate would apply to new cases and not the post-pandemic backlog of 58,000 cases.
“People are tired of a commercial elite”
Meanwhile, thousands of Royal Mail workers went on strike on Friday to demand a pay rise in line with inflation, after rejecting an offer for a 5% pay rise.
Dave Ward, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), which organized the strike, told Al Jazeera: “Like millions of people in this country, postal workers are being pushed to their limits.
“People are tired of a business elite that is completely out of touch with ordinary people and their lives.
“Things are getting harder and harder for most people so that a small elite can have a better time than ever. But people are standing up against this shameful situation and saying enough is enough.”
As postal workers protested, Britain was further shaken by the announcement of an energy price cap, a maximum level that businesses can charge households which will be reviewed every three months, announced by the energy regulator Ofgem.
From October to the end of December, energy bills for millions of households will rise to an average of 3,549 pounds ($4,198) a year from 1,971 pounds ($2,331) currently.
Earlier this month, National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) leader Mick Lynch told Al Jazeera that the unions were an organic response to what is happening at work and capitalism.
“You don’t have to be a Marxist to understand this,” he said.
“When you repress [trade unions], you take away people’s freedom. People need to wake up and their rights are being corroded.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last week urged Lynch to offer Network Rail’s ‘fair’ 8 per cent pay rise offer to its members.
“RMT is extending these unnecessary strikes which are a kick in the teeth of workers who cannot get to their jobs,” he said.
But with inflation forecast at 18% in 2023 and no sign of lower energy prices, Lynch and the growing number of disgruntled British workers are unlikely to accept offers that don’t give them a sense of security.