Britons are preparing for a holiday season of delayed packages, cancelled trains, and medical shortages, as hundreds of thousands of workers plan to walk off the job amid a nationwide cost of living crisis.
Union members from rail networks, buses, the postal service, the health sector, and border patrol are among those planning to strike in December, representing industrial action that is expected to be the largest in the UK since 1989. As inflation hits a 41-year high and millions struggle to heat their homes, workers are demanding pay increases to keep up with the economy.
A calendar of upcoming UK strikes
A strike of some kind or another has been planned for nearly every day from now until the end of December. The calendar below depicts the chaos, but may not show the true extent of upcoming industrial action as unions continue to formulate plans. Just yesterday, Border Force, which runs passport checks at UK’s airports, announced that staff will strike over the busy travel days around Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Each union is asking for something different, but most are hoping for a pay rise in line with, or greater than, inflation. With UK inflation currently at 11.1%, this is a sticking point for many negotiations.
Unsurprisingly, ambulance and nursing staff unions are unhappy with the 4.75% average increase in pay that they were given. Rail workers also want a double-digit pay increase and a guarantee of no job losses. Postal workers have been offered a deal worth up to 9% over 18 months; significant as that is, the figure still comes in below the inflation rate, and their union is asking for more. Driving examiners are hoping for a 10% bump, but also want better pensions and greater job security. The union representing university staff want an above-inflation pay raise, better pension benefits, and an end to excessive workloads.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s conservative government is working to minimize the impact of the upcoming strikes. The prime minister told MPs that if “union leaders continue to be unreasonable, then it is my duty to take action to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British public.”
Hoping to limit travel chaos during the festive season, a parliamentary bill has been introduced in order to ensure minimum service levels on transportation networks during the strikes. (The bill has not yet been debated.) The Home Office has warned travelers to expect “serious disruption,” and military personnel will be drafted to assist with border control at airports if Border Force walkouts go ahead. The military are also on standby to help out with the Ambulance workers strike.
Will there be another ‘winter of discontent’?
December’s wave of industrial action is expected to be the largest in the UK since the late 1980s. Based on unions’ current plans, more than 1 million working days will be lost to strike action in December, according to projections by the Financial Times.
The last month of such intense industrial action was July 1989, during the final years of Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as prime minister, when nearly 2.5 million working days were lost to strikes. Even that month paled in comparison to the postwar high of September 1979, Britain’s “winter of discontent”, when more than 12 million days were lost.