British workers are at breaking point, with anger over the cost of living crisis reaching a level not seen since the poll tax riots of the 1990s, Sharon Graham, the general secretary of Unite, said. The frustration at pay failing to keep pace with soaring inflation was spilling over into a wave of strike action that would extend from a summer of discontent into the winter. Graham said a groundswell of unhappiness over living standards was sweeping the country.
She was speaking from the picket line outside the port of Felixstowe, where thousands of dock workers are striking over pay this week, and compared the situation to widespread national anger over Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax, more than three decades ago. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in towns and cities around Britain in March 1990, in a rebellion that culminated in clashes with mounted police in Trafalgar Square, central London. It was regarded as a key event in bringing about the end of Thatcher.
Asked whether she felt the country was facing a moment with clear parallels to unrest over the poll tax, she added: “I think we could be, without a shadow of a doubt. I actually think there is a moment where people could rise to doing exactly the same thing again,” Graham stated.
Dismissing speculation that union leaders are coordinating industrial action to exert maximum pressure on employers and the government, Graham pointed out that, “It’s the other way around. There is a coordination of workers, who are saying: ‘I’m not taking this any more'. That is happening organically, which is what happened with the poll tax. Yes, there are leaders of things. But collectives make change, not individuals.”