'Battered by spiralling food and energy costs'
In Part 3 of our series on why we’re marching on June 18, UniteLive investigates how working people are paying for a crisis not of their making – and why we must all fight back
As Unite prepares for the TUC’s national cost of living demonstration on June 18, the union is mobilising like never before to get the message out there that ordinary families deserve better.
We deserve better from a government that has only provided piece-meal relief for the millions of households that are struggling to get by as inflation skyrockets; and we deserve better from employers, many of which are failing to pay their workers fairly in a never-ending quest for greater profits.
While millions struggle to pay their energy bills, huge energy companies such as Shell and BP have seen profits skyrocket to a record-breaking $32bn combined last year. BP’s profits more than doubled in the first three months of the year to $6.2bn.
And as food prices likewise soar, the biggest supermarket chains are cashing in like never before. Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket, reported in April that its profits have tripled in the last year to £2.03bn.
Meanwhile, people in work are seeing the value of their wages vanish before their very eyes. As of writing, the RPI rate of inflation, a measure that includes housing costs, has soared to more than 11 per cent. Meanwhile, workers saw an average 4.3 per cent increase in wages excluding bonuses in the three months to March, well below the inflation rate.
Unite branch secretary and First Manchester bus worker Sohail Khan, who alongside his colleagues celebrated a pay win earlier this year following industrial action, described how members have suffered as pay has largely failed to keep up with inflation.
“More and more of our members have been getting into debt – they’ve been turning to loans and credit cards just because they can’t cope,” he explained. “They’re scared to even turn on the telly or open a newspaper because they’re afraid of yet more announcements that will erode their standard of living, like the National Insurance hike, and the energy price cap increase.
“Even what we might consider a triumph in our recent pay increase isn’t really because we’ve gone years without a substantial pay increase and it’s just eaten away at our wages.”
Unite member and flight attendant Mikey told UniteLive how rising inflation and stagnating pay means that he and so many others are forced to work till they drop.
“I work every single day because I cannot afford even a basic standard of living if I don’t – I literally don’t have a day off,” he said. “My biggest fear is that things are only going to get worse – if prices keep increasing then we’ll be right on the breadline. If that happens, I don’t know how I’m going to pay the mortgage or the bills and feed my children.
“We’re all working several jobs just to pay the bills and we’re all struggling especially after furlough was withdrawn,” he added. “The government needs to do more about rising bills because we just can’t afford it.”
Unite branch secretary for Plymouth City buses Stephen Lloyd likewise said the government must take action.
“We’re struggling as it is,” he said. “We’ve never faced anything like this situation before – it really worries me. The levels of poverty we’re seeing everywhere are absolutely terrifying. The government should be ashamed. They hide behind their wealth and in their offices – while leaving us to face the impact of their decisions, out in the cold.”
In the face of a government that has so far offered only one-off payments that will do little to alleviate the worst of this crisis, Unite knows that fighting for pay rises in the workplace is essential. But powerful institutions like the Bank of England are actively pushing back against ordinary working people.
Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey has at least twice said that workers should think again about asking for pay rises, citing the possibility of a ‘wage-price’ spiral – which many economists have debunked as only a theory, and not one applicable to today’s inflation crisis.
Commenting on the Bank of England governor’s most recent statements, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “If Andrew Bailey wants to lecture anyone about belt-tightening, he should direct his attention to the CEOs of the UK’s top 100 companies who have seen their wages swell by an average of 34 per cent to an astonishing £4.1 million a year. Ask them to pause to reflect about the scale of their corporate greed.
“Workers, on the other hand, are at least £70 worse off than this time last year and are being battered by spiralling food and energy costs,” she said. “Telling them to pay for a crisis which is absolutely not of their making is obscene and totally unacceptable to Unite.”
Indeed, Unite is unapologetically fighting back against the cost of living crisis by targeting the workplace and winning millions of pounds in pay rises for its members in the last nine months. Since Sharon Graham became general secretary in August last year, more than 50,000 Unite members have been involved in industrial action, comprising over 300 disputes.
Unite knows that it is through steadfast unity that victories for working people are won, both in and out of the workplace. That’s why Unite is urging all of its members and their families and friends to attend the TUC’s cost of living demonstration on Saturday, June 18. It is vital that we send a clear and unequivocal message that we all deserve better.
Unite members and their families can book FREE Unite transport from all our regions to the June 18 demonstration. You can find out more here.
By Hajera Blagg