By Charlie Kimber
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New inflation surge shows need to escalate the strikes

This article is over 1 years, 3 months old
Unions should not settle for less than 15 percent pay increases
Issue 2832
A group of Royal Mail workers on the picket line, holding a pink CWU union flag in the centre, to illustrate a story about inflation

Royal Mail workers on the picket line in Romford, east London, in October. CWU union leaders shouldn’t accept any deal that’s a real terms cut

Inflation has been eating away at working class people’s wages, benefits and pensions for months. Figures released on Wednesday underlined that now price rises are devouring whole chunks of people’s living standards.

Inflation, using the most accurate RPI index, is rising at 14.2 percent a year. If you get a 5 percent wage “rise” it is in effect a cut of more than 9 percent. Even the government’s favoured CPI index was up 11.1 percent.

“The hikes in food, fuel and energy costs and more have made bills unmanageable. We need a meaningful pay rise. We are hurting out here,” said health worker Chris Akaluka. He was handing in a petition from the Unison union at 10 Downing Street.

Food and drink prices are up 16.4 percent in a year, the biggest rise for 45 years. The price of milk was up by nearly half, spaghetti by over a third, cheese by more than a quarter.

“Rising gas and electricity prices drove headline inflation to its highest level for over 40 years, despite the energy price guarantee,” said Grant Fitzner. The Office for National Statistics’s chief economist added, “Over the past year, gas prices have climbed nearly 130 percent while electricity has risen by around 66 percent.”

What does life look like for large sections of people on benefits and low wages? It is skipping meals and sitting in unheated rooms swathed in blankets. That’s not everyone’s experience.

The company behind Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Krug and Dom Pérignon has said it is “running out of stock on our best champagnes” as the wealthy spend big on luxury goods in a new “roaring 20s” age of decadence.

The fuel price surge would have been far higher if the government hadn’t been forced to provide at least some measures to curb the rise in bills. But chancellor Jeremy Hunt is set to withdraw that support for many working class people next April.

The rising cost of essential items means those with the lowest incomes are hit hardest. The inflation gap between the typical spending of the richest and poorest households is now the widest since March 2009.

But for businesses, inflation in the things they buy is slowing. Increases in the costs of raw materials such as metals, crude oil and chemicals are going down. 

The figures underline the importance of the present wage battles. Workers need victories in the Royal Mail, rail, BT, NHS, university, school, civil service, firefighters and other pay fights. There must not be deals that accept cuts.

The Unite union general secretary Sharon Graham said, “Today’s inflation figures confirm that the cost of living crisis continues. Ordinary families can’t pay their fuel bills, yet Shell and BP can announce 12-week profits of over £15 billion. 

“With wages still trailing behind price rises, British workers continue to face a national pay cut and now Austerity 2.0 beckons.” Those words need to be turned into action.

On Thursday, Hunt’s Autumn Statement was expected to deliver cuts and tax rises that will squeeze vital services. And they will hold down the pay of people such as nurses, bin workers and hospital cleaners, and drive the economy towards recession. 

Every trade union battle, every demonstration matters even more now. As the inflation figures were announced, senior CWU and RMT union figures were preparing for meetings about the latest developments in the Royal Mail and rail battles. There needs to be escalation and coordination of strikes to beat back the attacks.

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