By Charlie Kimber
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Inflation rises again—unions must follow rail workers’ lead

Working class people’s living standards have taken another hammering with inflation rising to 11.7 percent.
Issue 2810
A group of strikers and their supporters, around 20 people, at London Liverpool street illustrating an article on rising inflation

Health workers (left) bring solidarity to the rail workers’ picket line at London Liverpool Street station (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Prices are now rising at an average of 11.7 percent a year according to the most accurate measure of inflation, the RPI index, released on Wednesday. Benefits and pensions are falling far behind the soaring price rises—and so are nearly all wages.

Figures this week from XpertHR, a pay and personnel data publisher, showed annual average pay growth stalled at 4 percent in May. So most workers are in reality taking almost an 8 percent cut in their wages. It’s not wages that are driving inflation, it’s profiteering and the failures of the bosses’ system.

Even the government’s favourite CPI inflation measure, which excludes some basic costs, hit 9.1 percent. It’s the highest figure for over 40 years and the Bank of England predicts it could rise to 11 percent in the autumn. That would mean the RPI might reach 13 percent or more.

It’s impossible to avoid the pain of price rises. Essential goods are among the items whose prices are going up most. The Office for National Statistics said the annual inflation figure for gas was 95.5 percent in April and this was the same in May.

Grocery bills are expected to rise by £380 this year. In April, the research company Kantar had predicted the average cost of an annual supermarket shop would go up by £270. It revised this up by more than £100 on Tuesday.

Fraser McKevitt of Kantar’s said the data showed “just how sharp price increases have been recently and the impact inflation is having on the food retail sector”.  Another survey says food price rises in Britain could hit 15 percent this summer with inflation lasting into the middle of next year. That’s the highest level in more than 20 years. Meat, cereals, dairy, fruit and vegetables are likely to be the worst affected.

Until recently, there was very little generalised fightback as prices surged. But this week the rail strikes have shown the power to defend and extend workers’ living standards. These strikes, and others like them, are more important than ever. 

The rail workers need to win a pay rise above inflation—and other workers need to join the action. On Tuesday the CWU union announced that 115,000 Royal Mail postal workers will start a national strike ballot after a pay offer of just 2 percent. The ballot starts next Tuesday. Local union reps will hold gate meetings at every office in Britain on that day. 

The vote ends on 19 July, meaning the CWU could call strikes from the beginning of August. About 40,000 CWU members working for BT, including Openreach and EE, have also begun balloting for strikes. The union says they are expected to vote for the first BT company-wide strike in 35 years.

The government is expected to announce its pay offer to health workers this week. It won’t be anywhere near the inflation rate. Every union leader, in the public and the private sector, has to be pushed to fight. And when they fall short, workers have to organise to make resistance happen.

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