As Britain’s council workers prepare to strike over wages against a backdrop of rising prices and the spectre of continuing inflation returning to the British political scene it’s easy to envisage that we may be at the start of a chain of events that could bring challenges as great as those experienced during the 1970’s.
Of course conditions are different but it’s always worth looking to history for parallels. The recent tanker drivers 14% pay award mimics a chain of pay awards that begat a chain of ‘me too’ strikes across Britain as both the Conservative and then Labour governments of the time tried to cap the size of pay awards against a backdrop of rising prices.
We had many more nationalised industries then over which the government could exert pressure. Indeed sanctions were put in place against many companies both in the public and private sector that awarded pay increases above the governments percentage guidelines and Chancellor Alistair Darling has been making very similar noises by urging firms not to give in to the demands of employees for wage increases as the higher cost of living begins to bite.
I have no doubt that globally we are entering a very challenging economic period so it will be interesting to see how how Britain manages an increasing period jostling for wage settlements and how it will differ when compared to the so-called ‘winter of discontent‘ of 1978-79.
A timeline of the events leading up to the winter of discontent 1978-79