This column appeared in the Friday 27th January 2023 edition of the South London Press.

Over the past few months, the UK has experienced levels of industrial action across the public sector not seen in over a decade. We are now seeing nurses, teachers and emergency service workers join rail workers at the picket line to demand better pay and working conditions. Despite the Government’s attempt to attribute these strikes to economic decline following the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, in reality they are a direct result of thirteen years of Tory failure and an underfunded public sector.   

To make matters worse, in the past few weeks the Government has rushed new legislation through the Commons that, if made law, will be a monumental step back for workers’ rights and freedoms.  The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, which is both short and very vague in detail, is a blatant attack on working people’s democratic right to strike. The bill will hand the Government extensive and sweeping powers to enforce minimum service levels during strikes in multiple public services.  

The Government is arguing that these new laws will bring the UK in line with other European countries’ legislation; however, this isn’t true. Most European countries have a positive legal right to strike – unlike the UK – and their minimum service level regulations have been agreed to on a voluntary basis between the trade unions and the government. 

The bill seeks to place even more restrictions on trade unions, and places huge amounts of power in the hands of the Secretary of State to determine what minimum service levels would be. That is why my Labour colleagues and I voted against the bill last week, and if elected we will repeal it.  

The cost-of-living crisis, created by the Tory Government, is hitting everyone hard. In my constituency we have seen first-hand how rising inflation and soaring energy bills are impacting everyone. It has, however, been incredibly heart-warming to have constituents write in to show their support and compassion for the striking workers, something which the Government could learn from. Nurses, teachers, emergency services and rail workers have been essential to efforts during and after the pandemic, to keep things moving and get back to normality. Yet this Government has chosen to reward them by refusing to answer their calls to match their pay with soaring inflation.  

These strikes are a last resort for workers. Dysfunctional public services are not a result of industrial action, as the Government would have us believe, but rather the product of a more longstanding problem: over a decade of funding cuts and demands that our public services do more with less.  

A future Labour government will reinvest in our public services and ensure that workers’ rights are defended and respected. 

Screenshot of Vicky
Screenshot of Vicky's South London Press column
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