Employment

Thousands march in London to protest low pay and rising cost of living

Protesters spoke of the impact that falling wages and rising bills was having on their quality of life, with many saying that the working class has been hit the hardest by the cost of living crisis.

Image: Eliza Pitkin / The Big Issue

Thousands of trade unionists travelled from across the UK to march through central London calling for government action on the cost of living crisis and the impact rising costs are having on working people. 

Under the slogan “We Demand Better”, demonstrators called for a fairer deal for low-paid workers whose wages have not kept up with inflation, which has reached a 40-year-high of 9 per cent, while company bosses scoop million pound salaries. 

Public services union Unison, which represents NHS workers, led demonstrators to Parliament Square where trade union leaders addressed the gathering crowds.

At least thirty unions were billed to join the march, representing workers in education, transport, health, civil servants, hospitality, engineers and scientists, as well as grassroots organisers such as the London Renter Union.

Marching with union Unite, administrator Jo Sherman told the Big Issue that she had travelled from Birmingham to tell the government to “pay people a decent wage and put a cap on energy, so energy providers aren’t allowed to charge people these ridiculous rates.”

“My Mum’s seventy years old, she’s scared because her electricity bill has doubled. She’s got a health condition and needs to eat certain types of food, but now she’s having to cut back on that so she can afford to pay her energy bills. She’s literally terrified.”

Asked whether she thought the government was listening to people’s concerns, she replied: “I think we need to go back to the days of general strike, I think that’s probably what it’s going to take.”

Members of the RMT union, which has confirmed that three days of strike action will go ahead across the rail network in late June, joined the march to show solidarity with workers in other low-paid professions. The union claims it could be the largest strike in rail history, grinding services across the country to a halt. 

Jo Sherman described how her mother is having to cut back on the specialist food she needs for her health condition, to pay her energy bills. Image: Evie Breese / The Big Issue

 “We are calling on the entire labour movement and working class people in this country to rally behind us, and for everyone to seek an improvement in their life,” Eddie Dempsey, RMT assistant general secretary, told The Big Issue.

To those critical of the rail strikes, Dempsey said: “We are your friends. If you haven’t had a pay rise, we are the people that are going to help you get it. We’re out here with postal workers, nurses, teachers, everyone who’s had a kicking over the past few years, we are ready to coordinate action and help you get the same thing.”

Public sector workers, including those in the NHS, teachers and council workers have taken the greatest hit to their paypackets, with wages rising by just 1.5 per cent compared with the same period last year, according to recently released data from the Office for National Statistics.

The Communication Workers Union which represents people working for BT, Openreach and EE will ballot for national strike action for the first time in 35 years. Image: Evie Breese / The Big Issue

In comparison, those in the private sector saw pay rises on average of eight per cent. 

“Above-inflation pay rises won’t just ease financial hardship for employees in the NHS, schools, care, councils and police. Decent wage increases will protect essential services too by ensuring experienced staff stay and new recruits keep joining,” said Jon Richards, assistant general secretary of Unison.

Growing unrest among trade unions has caused many to question whether there will be a national strike, after union leaders at GMB and Unison suggested they would be willing to coordinate strike action if the situation continues to escalate. 

A government spokesperson said: “We understand that people are struggling with rising prices which is why we have acted to protect the 8 million most vulnerable British families through at least £1,200 of direct payments this year.

“Through our £37bn support package we are also saving the typical employee over £330 a year through a tax cut in July and allowing people on Universal Credit to keep £1,000 more of what they earn.

“The Government is determined to make work pay and in April we increased the National Living Wage to £9.50, the largest ever increase since its introduction in 2016.

“In the long-term, we are committed to building a high skilled, high wage economy that delivers on our ambition to make the UK the best place in the world to work.”

Demonstrations also took place across Ireland, organised by the Cost of Living Coalition, inDublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Sligo.

The Black and Asian Ethnic Minorities Committee of Unite the Union chapter banner. Image: Evie Breese / The Big Issue
Protesters gathered in Parliament Square. Image: Evie Breese / The Big Issue

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