LONDON — In a city long accustomed to loud and colourful demonstrations, this was one of the more unusual public displays: Protesters in flowing black robes and curly horsehair wigs at a London courthouse on Monday waving placards outside.
But as Britain prepares for ‘Summer of Discontent’ Labour riots followed Cost of living soarseven the lawyers are on strike.
Criminal defense lawyers are just the latest group to ask for a raise, after the largest Railroad workers strike Generations, June. Staff of national airline British Airways; public school teachers; health and postal workers also threatened to strike.
With energy costs soaring, inflation soaring into double digits and tax and loan costs rising, Britons are demanding higher wages in an aggressive manner not seen in years.
Speculation that the country will be paralyzed by strikes this summer has fueled fears of a return to the 1970s, when labor riots left streets uncollected, the dead could not be buried and dealt a fatal blow to the government at the time.
“It’s a disturbing time,” said Steven Fielding, a professor of political history at the University of Nottingham in mid-England.He said the riots took place in Recent scandals have weakened the government’s authoritybut also because of soaring inflation, the long-term impact of the pandemic and the realization of The economic cost of leaving the EU last year.
“This is the context in which this is happening,” Professor Fielding said, “and it poses a serious threat to the government in relation to all of these things.”
Even some allies of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson seem to agree. Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Daniel HannanThe Brexit fanatic and Lords MP bemoaned a “chaos – the feeling that Britain is falling apart as taxes, inflation and strikes start a horrific spiral”.
Public services, which have long been under pressure, appear to be crumbling in some cases. According to the British Medical Association, which represents doctors, nearly 6.5 million people in England are waiting for hospital treatment (usually for knee or hip replacements, or eye surgery), and the country’s healthcare system has 100,000 staff vacancies.
Britons are now advised to renew their passports due to a backlog of applications, which take 10 weeks.average waiting time Take a driver’s license test The government says it’s 14 weeks.
But the return of strike action is the clearest symptom of the malaise facing Britons – and it affects tourists too.
According to Steven Freudmann, president of the Travel and Tourism Institute, a lobby group, visitor numbers are down about 30 to 40 percent from pre-pandemic levels, though for several reasons — including The ongoing impact of the coronavirus – The threat of rail strikes and further disruptions “certainly was a factor”.
Addressing the demands of various groups of workers appears to be a long way off. While inflation is eroding the nation’s spending power, the government is determined to curb pay rises for fear that they will push up inflation and trigger higher pay requirements.
However, Mr Johnson, who also sees political opportunity in the chaos, has sought to blame the opposition Labour Party, which has strong ties to unions and is wary of condemning striking workers.
Mr Johnson said there had been “unbelievable silence from Labour leader Keir Starmer”. In Parliament on June 22, he accused Labour politicians of “supporting the strikers, and we support the strugglers”.
Mr Starmer, who has accused the government of failing to resolve the rail dispute, ordered his lawmakers not to join the protests with striking workers, but was embarrassed when some ignored his instructions.
But the strike also caused trouble for Mr Johnson.Last year, he pledged to build a “High wages, high skills“ The economy, a promise that has evaporated, can only be replaced by demands to limit wages.
He also faces charges of double standards as he plans to protect retirees from inflation by increasing state pensions accordingly. Critics see the move as an effort to support a group of voters important to Mr Johnson’s Conservative Party.
Many different groups, including middle-class professionals, demand higher pay, complicating Mr Johnson’s political narrative.
The striking lawyers rely on government funds to cover their costs, acting for clients who don’t have the money to fund their own legal defenses. They’ve been on strike to demand these payments be increased, but it’s hard to describe any lawyer as a left-wing agitator.
In Scotland, even the police have been embroiled in a pay dispute, and while not threatening to strike, they said they would “withdraw goodwill”, which included meeting their duties strictly to the times marked on their calendars.
Mr Johnson’s critics argue that inflation is caused by external factors such as soaring energy costs and the war in Ukraine, rather than generally below-inflation pay rises.corporate profit is A bigger driver of inflation than wagesthey said.
They also accused the government of suppressing wages for public sector employees for years, pushing workers to financial limits, and now demanding even more.
“Today’s inflation is not driven by nurses and paramedics wanting enough wages to keep food on the table,” said Francis O’Grady, secretary general of the Confederation of Labour’s Congress of Trade Unions. “The main drivers are global energy prices and supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic.”
She added that refusing to increase wages now could lead to lower spending and tip the UK into recession.
“The cost of living crisis has hit the UK particularly hard, as it follows a decade-long wage suppression,” she said. She added that in most major economies, “wages have risen over the past decade, but UK does not have”
Professor Fielding said the memory of the 1970s lingered in British politics, but he pointed to a big difference between then and now. About 23 percent of workers are now unionized, he said, up from about half 50 years ago, and he said concerns about union belligerence have receded.
Polls tend to show the public divided on striking rail workers, and Mr Johnson’s attempts to blame Labour and unions for the disruption appear to have failed so far.
But Professor Fielding said the opposition had failed to capitalise on Mr Johnson’s moment of weakness, adding that “without the contrary, the danger for the opposition is that the public may start to lean towards the government’s interpretation.”
For months, as the country grapples with disputes that could inconvenience the lives of millions, it may not be clear who Britons ultimately blame for the labor unrest.
As the turbulent season unfolds, Britons may have to look for small solace wherever they can.
One place – at least for drivers – could be Wiltshire in the west of England, where traffic wardens who have issued tickets for parking violations have also threatened to strike.