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After more than a year of falling living standards, UK wages are finally beating inflation again, thanks in no small part to the efforts of unions.

Average revenue increased by 8.5%, reaching a record high report This week, the Office for National Statistics cited the impact of deals in the NHS and civil service as pay awards were boosted by the biggest strike action in decades. Unions have also produced double-digit wage increases for many private companies.

“This has been a big year for trade unions by any measure,” TUC general secretary Paul Novak told the UK organized labor movement’s annual gathering in Liverpool this week.

Column chart of days lost due to industrial disputes (millions) shows that more days were lost to strikes in 2022 than in any year since 1989

But with strikes by doctors and rail workers continuing to test public support, unemployment rising and the collapse of retailer Wilko highlighting the risk of further job losses, unions fear the window for action is closing.

“We’re past the peak,” said Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, although he noted there could be a fierce fight over public sector pay next year if inflation remained high.

GMB general secretary Gary Smith said workers may be afraid to push their wage demands too high as companies hit by the construction slowdown face imminent redundancies. “Things are starting to shift. There is a feeling that things are slowing down.”

Line chart of annual growth in average weekly earnings (including bonuses)* shows union action led to higher pay deal

Unions also face what some see as an almost existential threat, with new legislation allowing ministers to impose minimum services during strikes in key sectors.

But while some union leaders have called for a campaign not to comply with the new laws, Clancy said there were “many ways to fight it that don’t involve shouting from the rooftops”, including alternatives to industrial action such as Effort Rules or prohibitions regarding overtime.

The need for such a tactic may only be temporary, with Labor leading the polls and a general election expected next year that could soon bring an end to 13 years of Conservative-led government.

The Labor Party was founded more than a century ago when political wings of the trade union movement and TUC delegates were cautiously optimistic about the possibility of a return to government. “We’ve had too many false dawns since 2010 to take this for granted,” one union leader said.

Party leader Sir Keir Starmer’s agenda is too moderate for many union officials, particularly those from activist groups who accuse him of reheating the centrist policies of former Labor prime minister Tony Blair.

Starmer has abandoned most of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn’s pledges to raise taxes and nationalize. But he retained a series of measures aimed at changing the balance between employees and employers, known as the “New Deal for Working People.”

These include a pledge to overturn anti-union legislation in 2016 and 2023, including the much-maligned “minimum service level” law, and make it easier for unions to enter workplaces, win recognition and establish collective bargaining arrangements in the private sector.

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said the reforms would be a priority as the union struggled to recruit enough members to replace those working or retiring in the public sector, let alone rebuild their presence in the public sector The existence of . Private Sector.

Line chart of union density (percentage of employees who are union members) by sector shows that the proportion of unionized employees has been declining

Starmer also promised to increase sick pay, ban the practice of sacking and rehiring and zero-hours contracts, and introduce the right for employees to log out of work emails.

But union leaders fear the scheme could be cut before the election to appease business leaders. In July, Labor softened some of its pledges – clarifying, for example, that its plans to “introduce fundamental personal rights for all workers from day one” would not exclude new staff from trial periods.

“There are some very popular policies. . . . The difficulty is delivering on promises and speeches during a long election campaign. . . ” There were rotating strikes last year.

Unite leader Sharon Graham accused Starmer of “vacillating” on major issues. Unite has achieved some of its biggest victories in recent private sector pay disputes.

Graham suggested that if Labor politicians did not “do what is required”, unions could devote more resources to resolving disputes and become a “real workers’ movement” rather than simply “waving money around”.

“If you forget what you’re here to do, you can’t see whose side you’re on and why we created you,” she said.

Starmer has made a concerted effort to increase Labour’s donations to the wealthy in a bid to reduce Labour’s financial dependence on the trade union movement, with shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves last month ruling out the levy if Labor wins the election The possibility of a wealth tax.

Macanea said she was disappointed by the news. “They’re going to have to look at a wealth tax,” she said. “I hope they reconsider this at some point in the future.”

Despite criticism of Starmer’s increasingly dovish approach over the past three years, he still enjoys widespread support from the union movement.

Clancy said while unions always wanted more, Labor had given an “ironclad guarantee” to repeal anti-strike laws and pledged to strengthen workers’ rights. “The reality is that the government we have elected will gradually address the fact that UK employers and their companies have had unfettered power for fifteen years.”

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