LONDON – One of the most unusual public displays was in a city long accustomed to noisy and colorful demonstrations: Protesters in drooping black gowns and horsehair wigs waved banners on Monday outside a London court.
But with Britain preparing for the “Summer of Discontent” and Labor unrest is growing as the cost of living rises, even lawyers are going on strike.
Criminal defense lawyers are just the latest group to demand more wages, after the biggest strikes by rail workers in a generation, in June. employees of the national airline, British Airways; public school teachers; Health and postal workers also threatened to go on strike.
With energy costs soaring, inflation spurting into double digits, taxes increasing and the cost of loans rising, Britons are demanding higher wages with a tightening we haven’t seen in years.
Speculation that the country would be paralyzed by strikes this summer has raised fears of a return to the 1970s, when labor unrest left rubbish uncollected in the streets, prevented the burial of the dead and dealt a fatal blow to today’s government.
“It’s a moment of malaise,” said Stephen Fielding, professor of political history at the University of Nottingham in central England. He said the unrest came as the government’s authority had been eroded by recent scandals, but also by rising inflation, the long-term effects of the pandemic and realizing the economic costs of leaving the European Union last year.
“It’s the context in which this is happening, and this is a serious threat to the government that is associated with all of these things,” Professor Fielding said.
Even some allies of Prime Minister Boris Johnson seem to agree. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Daniel Hanana Brexit enthusiast and member of the House of Lords, bemoans a sense of “chaos – the sense that Britain is collapsing as taxes, inflation and strikes begin a terrible downward spiral.”
Public services, which have been under pressure for so long, appear to be collapsing in some cases. Roughly 6.5 million people in England are awaiting treatment in hospital (usually knee or hip replacement, or eye surgery) and there are 100,000 vacancies in the country’s healthcare system, according to the British Medical Association, which represents doctors.
Britons are now advised to allow 10 weeks if they want to renew their passports due to a backlog of applications. average wait Take a test to get a driver’s license 14 weeks, the government says.
But the return of the strike is the most visible symbol of the anxiety facing the British – and it is affecting visitors, too.
Stephen Frodman, president of the Travel and Tourism Institute, a lobby group, said the number of tourist arrivals was about 30 to 40 percent lower than it was before the pandemic and that while there are several reasons — including the continuing impact of the coronavirus — the rail strike and the threat More turbulence “is definitely a factor.”
A solution to the demands of the various classes of workers seems elusive. While inflation is eroding purchasing power across the country, the government is determined to curb growing fears that it could push inflation higher and increase wage demands.
However, Johnson also sees a political opportunity in the turmoil and has tried to blame the opposition Labor Party, which has strong links to labor unions and is afraid to condemn the striking workers.
Mr Johnson said there had been “an incredible silence from the leader of the Labor Party, Keir Starmer”. In Parliament on June 22, he accused Labor politicians of “supporting the strikers while we support the militants”.
Mr Starmer, who blames the government for failing to resolve the rail dispute, ordered his deputies not to join the protests alongside the striking workers, only to be embarrassed when some ignored his instructions.
But the strikes create problems for Mr. Johnson, too. Last year, he promised to build “High wages and high skill“ Economy, a pledge evaporated, to be replaced by the demand for a restriction of wages.
He also faces accusations of double standards as he plans to protect retirees from inflation with a corresponding increase in state pensions. Critics see the move as a way to favor a group of important voters for Johnson’s Conservative Party.
The combination of different groups demanding better wages, including middle-class professionals, complicates Johnson’s political narrative.
Striking lawyers rely on government funding to pay to work on behalf of clients who lack money to fund their legal defense. They were stunned to demand such payments, but it is hard to describe any lawyer as a left-wing agitator.
And in Scotland, even the police are embroiled in a wage dispute, and while they are not threatening to strike, they say they will “pull the goodwill” by, among other things, finishing their duties neatly on time in their schedules.
Johnson’s critics argue that inflation was caused by external factors such as rising energy costs and the war in Ukraine, rather than wage increases that have generally remained well below inflation. corporate profits The biggest driver of inflation is wagesThey say.
They also blame the government for suppressing public sector salaries for years, pushing workers to their financial limits and paying higher demands now.
“Inflation today is not driven by nurses and care workers who want enough salaries to keep food on the table,” said Francis O’Grady, general secretary of the Trade Union Congress, a federation of labor groups. “The main drivers are global energy prices and pandemic disruptions to supply chains.”
She added that refusing to raise wages now could cut spending and push Britain into recession.
“The cost of living crisis has particularly affected the UK as it followed a decade of wage curbs,” she said. She added that in most leading economies, “wages have grown in the past decade, but not in the UK”
Professor Fielding said memories of the 1970s haunt the British political class, but noted that there are significant differences between then and now. He said about 23 percent of workers are now union affiliated, compared to about half a year ago, and concerns about union hardening have receded.
Opinion polls tend to show a general split over opinions about the rail strike, and Mr Johnson’s attempts to blame Labor and unions for the disruption appear to have failed, so far.
Prof Fielding said the opposition had failed to capitalize on Mr Johnson’s moment of weakness, adding that “without a counter-narrative, the danger for the opposition is that the public may begin to drift toward the government’s explanations”.
It may not be clear for months who ends up blaming the British for labor unrest as the country grapples with a variety of conflicts that threaten to upset the lives of millions.
With the onset of Troubled Season, Britons may have to look for a small consolation where they can find it.
One place – at least for drivers – may be Wiltshire, in western England, where traffic guards who write parking tickets are also threatening to strike.