Insight

Summer of discontent? - How the cost of living crisis could fuel further civil and industrial unrest

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Members of the Wales TUC took to London recently in a protest at the rising cost of living Credit: PA Images

For those of a certain age, the current atmosphere of public tension and dissatisfaction may evoke memories of the late 1970s: the infamous Winter of Discontent.

Back then the characters and the circumstances were different although many of the root causes hold a striking similarity to what is happening today.

Wage restraint, inflation depressing workers' pay packets and government resistance to widespread pay rises; issues that feel as politically and economically pertinent now as they did in 1978/79.

Those similarities have led to some sections of the media warning that Britain could be headed for a 'Summer of Discontent'.

And with this week's rail strikes - the biggest in a generation - coupled with threats of future industrial action, there could be some truth to that ominous prediction.

The cost of living crisis appears to be driving much of this unrest, and, with the crisis looking like it still has some way to run, there's a serious possibility these current strikes will be far from the last we will see this year.

Workers march on the Houses of Parliament in London in 1979, a time of mass walkouts that had a huge impact on society Credit: PA Images

Simmering tensions

In Wales virtually no corner of society has been insulated from the impacts of the cost of living crisis, with people at almost all points on the income scale impacted in some way.

The Welsh and UK Governments have both made interventions of their own to try and help people navigate their way through the crisis, particularly the most vulnerable.

However, that does not appear to have cooled simmering tensions in several places.

In recent weeks and months people have taken to the streets all over the country including in Cardiff, Swansea, Bangor and Merthyr Tydfil in protest at the rising cost of living and a perceived lack of action by the UK and Welsh Governments.

Last Saturday (June 18) members of the Wales TUC travelled to London to march on Westminster, in what was billed as the biggest union march in a decade.

Clearly, there is a widespread feeling that, despite the help already given and already pledged, much more has to be done to mitigate the very worst impacts of the cost of living crisis.

Members of the Wales TUC and affiliates gathered in London on Saturday (June 18) to protest against the rising cost of living Credit: PA Images

A summer of strikes? A winter of walkouts?

As inflation, which is currently sitting at a 40-year high, continues to drift further and further away from the Bank of England's 2% target prices look set to continue rising for some time.

With rising inflation it seems likely the central bank will respond by raising interest rates further still.

And then there is the looming spectre of October's energy price cap increase, which will only sharpen the suffering felt by so many across Welsh society, many of whom are already forced to choose between heating or eating.

With all these unwanted developments piling up on top of pre-existing hardships for communities across the country, the coming weeks and months could offer fertile ground for more civil and industrial action.


Brendan Kelly, from the RMT Union, speaks to Rob Osborne on ITV Cymru Wales' Sharp End


Speaking to ITV Cymru Wales' political programme, Sharp End, Brendan Kelly, a regional organiser for the RMT Union, said he was aware of the potential for other public sector workers to walk out.

He said: "They need to go through their own processes [but] I know postal workers, civil servants and other groups now are looking at taking industrial action."

Asked if he would support another General Strike, he said: "Yes, I would absolutely support workers coming out and combining their actions together on the same day.

"If PCS, the postal workers and other unions, health workers and care workers wanted to do action on the same day as the RMT we would definitely support that."

Some teaching staff in Wales could be balloted on strike action if demands for a 12% pay increase are not met Credit: PA Images

Elsewhere in the public sector, teaching staff in Wales could be balloted on potential strike action.

Leaders at the NASUWT teaching union have called for a 12% pay increase for staff in Wales, with threats of a strike ballot if those terms are not met.

The pay award is due in November.

Meanwhile, criminal barristers look set to strike on Monday (June 27), after a long-running dispute with the Government in a dispute over legal aid fees.

Picket lines are set to take place outside crown courts including Cardiff Crown Court.

Some crown court trials could be postponed as a result of the strike action.

Transport for Wales has urged passengers not to rely on their services during strikes Credit: Transport for Wales

In response to the strikes, the UK Government has said it wants to reform the rail network to make it more efficient for commuters and travellers.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "We need, I'm afraid, everybody, and I say this to the country as a whole, we need to get ready to stay the course.

"To stay the course, because these reforms, these improvements in the way we run our railways are in the interests of the travelling public, they will help to cut costs for farepayers up and down the country."

Both the Welsh and UK Governments have offered various means of support to help people through the cost of living crisis.

From July 14, eligible households in Wales will receive the first instalment of a £650 UK Government cost of living payment.

Meanwhile the Welsh Government recently announced a £4m fuel voucher scheme, to help some of the poorest households with soaring energy bills.

These measures are part of wider economic support packages.