British workers are at breaking point, with anger over the cost of living crisis reaching levels not seen since the riots of the 1990s, the leader of one of the UK’s strongest unions has said.
Sharon Graham, Unite’s general secretary, said frustration that wages were not keeping pace with soaring inflation was turning into a wave of strikes that would stretch from a summer of discontent to Winter.
Speaking from the picket line outside the Port of Felixstowe, where thousands of dockworkers are on strike this week, she likened the situation to widespread national anger over the controversial community accusation of Margaret Thatcher, Better known as the poll tax, more than three decades ago. .
Hundreds of thousands took to the streets of cities and towns across Britain in March 1990 in a rebellion that culminated in clashes with mounted police in Trafalgar Square, central London. Considered essential to ending Thatcher’s term in office, the poll tax was introduced first in Scotland, then in England and Wales before being abandoned by her successor, John Major.
“I actually think there’s a point where people might go back to doing the exact same thing,” Graham told the Guardian.
She said further strikes at Britain’s biggest container terminal could be expected beyond this week and could continue until Christmas – unless the Hong Kong-based port owners improve their wage offer to workers.
Raising the prospect of further supply chain disruption ahead of the holiday season, she said workers were determined to get a bigger pay rise from the port and would not hesitate to take further industrial action. if necessary. “We will consider stepping up this action,” she said.
Dismissing speculation that union leaders are coordinating industrial action to exert maximum pressure on employers and the government, Graham said a wave of discontent over living standards was sweeping the country.
“It’s the opposite. There is a coordination of workers, who say: ‘I don’t take that anymore.’
“It happens organically, that’s what happened with the poll tax. Yes, there are leaders of things. But collectives make change, not individuals.
Asked if she felt the country was facing a time with clear parallels to the poll tax turmoil, she added: ‘I think we could be, without a shadow of a ‘a doubt.”
Felixstowe workers are involved in an eight-day strike. Unite rejected a 7% pay offer from port operator CK Hutchison for being “significantly below” the rate of inflation.
With the cost of basic necessities and energy bills soaring, inflation in the UK has topped 10% for the first time since the 1980s. The Bank of England predicts it will peak in above 13%, while forecasters at US bank Citi expect it to hit 18% early next year.
Graham said Unite planned to escalate its dispute at Felixstowe by approaching the port operator’s major investors and customers to expose how it was a ‘greedy business’, aimed at bolstering the union’s influence in addition to a new strike.
CK Hutchison, which is ultimately controlled by Hong Kong-based billionaire Li Ka-shing, made profits of £79million last year, Unite said.
“I want to be able to show [investors] court accounts and say that this dispute is not because of us. This is because the company is too greedy. It’s leverage. It’s about expanding the strike beyond just the picket line,” she said.
“Their profits are up 28% from last year. So you think, ‘wait a second, are you making a huge profit? How can you justify asking these workers to take a pay cut? »
Responding to Graham’s visit to the picket line, a Port of Felixstowe spokesperson said: “Many of our employees feel let down by Unite. Many want to work and are angry that they weren’t allowed to vote on the company’s latest offer.
“The port has offered a bid worth 8.1% to 9.6% this year. The strike imposed on them by Unite is an effective pay cut of 2.2%. Many employees told us that they wanted to come to work but felt too uncomfortable to do so.