In her regular column, Nottingham East MP Nadia Whittome discusses the strikes and why she's getting involved...
June saw the biggest rail strike in thirty years, as more than 40,000 workers walked out in a dispute over pay, jobs and terms and conditions. Hot on their heels, other trade unions in a wide range of industries and sectors are now voting to reject pay offers and go on strike themselves.
I was proud to join the rail strike picket lines in June, and I’ll be at every picket line in Nottingham I can this summer. I’m going to use this column to explain why.
First of all, I’m a Labour MP - the clue is in the name. The Labour Party was set up by trade unions in this country to represent the interests of working class people. I view myself as a representative of the labour movement and will always do what I can to support trade unionists - from raising their demands in Parliament, to standing with them on picket lines, to donating part of my MP’s salary to strike funds.
This is because I believe in the power of workers to collectively change society - and history proves it’s possible. So many of the rights and protections we have are thanks to workers organising through trade unions. Before their existence, it was common for people to work fourteen to eighteen hours a day for poverty wages in unsafe workplaces. From working class people being able to vote, to health and safety laws, to better pay and the weekend, trade unions have played an essential role in making our lives better.
I’m a Labour MP - the clue is in the name. The Labour Party was set up by trade unions in this country to represent the interests of working class people
And the unique power of trade unions continues to this day. Our society only runs because of workers doing their jobs. Companies make profit because of workers doing their jobs. So when workers go on strike, they are tipping the balance of power - away from exploitative bosses and rich shareholders, towards themselves. It is an extremely effective way of securing change.
This current round of strikes is particularly important because of the cost of living crisis. Without jobs where pay is keeping up with inflation, poverty and inequality will soar. In some areas of Nottingham, like Hyson Green, Bobbers Mill and Forest Fields, more than one in three children already live in poverty - far above the national average. These strikes aim to prevent people becoming poorer. If you support “levelling up” our city, supporting striking workers should be part of this.
In arguing against the strikes, the Government has claimed that pay rises will make inflation worse. But inflation isn’t being driven by wage increases - since the financial crisis of 2008, wages have stagnated. Calling for an increase now, as bills rise and living standards fall, is only fair.
But can these employers afford to pay higher wages? Many of the companies where industrial action is taking place are obscenely wealthy. The railways, for example, made £500 million profit last year, even when fares and passengers were at an all-time low. We should be taking money away from executives and shareholders, not working people who are struggling to make ends meet.
Striking workers are leading the way for all workers - showing to employers that workers will not be made to pay the cost of soaring inflation
And what about other workers who are not going on strike? Will the strikes make a difference to them? More and more people are being inspired to fight for a better deal in their own workplaces. The Trades Union Congress said enquiries into trade union membership on its website have soared by 700%.
Striking workers are leading the way for all workers - showing employers that workers will not be made to pay the cost of soaring inflation. If they can win decent pay rises, it will put pressure on other employers to do the same.
So if you’re not in a union already, join one. If you are and you want to organise for better pay, approach your local rep to discuss how. Together we can win the pay we deserve, and I hope to see many of you supporting the picket lines this summer.
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