23 MARCH 2023 | OPINION
Yesterday was a tumultuous day in British politics; whether it be the Boris Johnson Privileges Committee hearing, the usual theatrics of Prime Minister’s Questions, the failed mini Brexit rebellion, or even the sneaky dump of Sunak’s eye-watering tax returns. But I believe it was in fact the ONS inflation data dump that was the most noteworthy for the general population of the UK.
It was released yesterday that inflation had risen to 10.4% in February, being driven up by higher food and drink prices in restaurants, pubs, and supermarkets. The general consensus of economists was that the annual consumer price inflation rate would drop to somewhere between 9.4%-9.9% in February – a considerable fall from the 41-year high of 11.1% in October of 2022.
This has prompted many political and economic commentators to predict that the Bank of England would increase interest rates to 4.25% from as early as today. I somewhat question the legitimacy of these commentators and economists, considering the fact that they didn’t predict the initial inflation rise in the first place.
Anybody keeping an eye on the political discourse of the UK in the past year will be aware of the considerable amount of disagreement between the trade unions of various public and private sector industries and the Government. This debate is generally centred around wages not rising consistently with the inflation of the past 15 years, and terms and conditions of employment being subject to radical and unprecedented change.
Although the past six months of disputes have, in most cases, made little to no progress, they have recently begun picking up speed in terms of the amount of common ground that is being found between workers’ representatives and the management’s representatives.
Only yesterday, the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union suspended strike action for all train operators whilst a new deal was considered, having settled with Network Rail last week. However, this new announcement will be sure to throw a spanner into the works, particularly with the London Underground branch – known to be on of the most militant in the entirety of the labour movement.
For unions like the National Education Union (NEU), the Communication Workers Union (CWU), the GMB Union, Unison, Unite and many others who are currently still in constant conversations with the Government and various management groups, this announcement will be even more important to use as another feather in their negotiation hat.
However, the real consequences for both the working members of trade unions, the leaders of trade unions, and their relevant Government opposite numbers will be for the industries that have already settled on a deal. The Criminal Bar Association – the union that represents solicitors, paralegals and barristers – accepted a 15% pay deal in October of last year, having walked out of work for several weeks beforehand.
I have no doubt that the legally-qualified KCs and other legal eagles in their membership will be considering the various precedents and legalities of re-balloting for strike action with these devastating new inflation announcements.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), who recently agreed a settlement of a 7% pay increase, backdated to July of 2022, and then an increase of 5% from July of 2023, will be sure to feel ripped off by the Government. With the FBU being amongst the most militant of all public service unions, and one of the most important ones, they may stoke the fire by threatening strike action once more.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Government will be sure to try and find common ground with the FBU – as we begin to approach warmer weather, nobody will want to see Green Goddesses descending upon the streets.
I imagine that most trade unions’ national and regional Executive Committees will be bringing this topic up at their next meeting, and I have full confidence that – whatever occurs – there will be trouble!