Boris Johnson is waging culture war against trade unions, warns TUC chief

The UK government has been accused of waging a culture war against workers rather than pushing to resolve strikes on the railways, amid growing anger among public sector workers over pay and conditions.

The head of the TUC said ministers appeared to be more interested in stoking tensions between different groups of workers by making an example of striking railway unions and their members before a broader summer of industrial action.

Speaking to the Guardian as the biggest strikes on the network since the 1980s entered a third day, Frances O’Grady said: “It is worth stating the bleeding obvious, but this is all about culture wars. And we are top of the list. You have to understand everything through that prism.

“It’s more about being seen to pick a fight – with hostility, sowing division. That is the point. So policy success [averting the strikes] isn’t really the goal.”

Instead of helping broker a deal between the train operating companies and the RMT rail union, she suggested ministers were deliberately whipping up societal tensions in the hope of driving a wedge between unionised workers and the rest of society.

The government has so far refused to play a formal role in negotiations and said it plans to change the law to allow agency workers to replace striking staff.

tuttavia, O’Grady said using culture war tactics to demonise unionised employees was bound to backfire as workers across society struggle with wages failing to keep pace with the soaring cost of living.

Ministers are considering options for public sector pay increases against a backdrop of growing unrest over the cost of living crisis, with NHS staff, teachers and civil servants bracing for potential industrial action. A report in the Financial Times suggested ministers were considering pay rises of up to 5%, up from expectations for a deal in the range of 2-3%, to reflect the impact of the cost of living crisis.

Paul Nowak, the TUC’s deputy general secretary, suggested the government would come unstuck if it attempted to drive a wedge between low-paid workers in health and social care and the rest of society.

“How do you play a culture war against a group of low-paid women who are saying we have no alternative," Egli ha detto. “These aren’t people who are taking strike action for fun. They just literally feel they have no alternative.”

The Treasury insists public sector pay increases must be “proportionate and balanced with the need to manage inflationary pressures and public sector finances”.

Rishi Sunak is believed to be pressing government departments to stick within funding limits set at his spending review last October, while any bigger pay rises would need to be achieved by finding savings elsewhere.

The TUC has written to the chancellor to request a meeting over the government’s plans for public sector pay, warning that any further restraint amid the cost of living crisis would come as a hammer blow to the morale of staff after the coronavirus pandemic and a decade of austerity.

“This government, credo, doesn’t get that the majority of the public service workforce and our membership in public services are women,” O’Grady said. “What I really get when I speak to care workers, nurses, cleaners, they are really fed up with this patrician attitude as if our wages don’t count. And they do.”

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said the rail strikes had failed to bring the transport system to a halt, while urging union leaders “not to keep hamstringing the country”.

“The only chaos these strikes are causing isn’t on our transport system but on the day-to-day lives of hardworking people and for businesses around the country. Rather than standing on picket lines, union representatives should be back around the negotiating table and agree a deal to bring our rail industry into the 21st century," Egli ha detto.

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