Tony Blair says UK 'cannot afford' public sector strikes

Former prime minister Tony Blair gives a speech at the Institute for Government in central London where he will call for Labour to oppose any move by Boris Johnson to hold an emergency general election until Brexit has been resolved.
Tony Blair has called on Labour to oppose calls for public sector pay hikes. (PA)

Tony Blair has said the UK cannot afford public sector strikes amid the rising cost of living crisis.

A growing number of public and private sector workers are demanding pay rises after years of wage stagnation and inflation hitting its highest figure in 40 years.

Workers at the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) union went on three rail strikes last week calling for better pay and better working conditions, and have warned of more industrial action to come.

Criminal law barristers also went on strike on Monday demanding a 15% pay rise, while staff at British Airways, Ryanair and easyJet are planning action this month and possibly beyond. On Thursday, BT workers voted for the UK's first-ever call centre strike.

Read more: UK shop prices jump at the fastest pace in almost 14 years

Teachers, doctors and nurses have also threatened to walk out in moves that could cause widespread disruption.

Labour’s position on strikes remains unclear, with Keir Starmer’s approach appearing to be at odds with a growing number of MPs on his own frontbench - including deputy leader, Angela Rayner.

And last week, Starmer privately told MPs not to show up at the rail strikes - but a number of Labour frontbenchers were spotted at picket lines.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 06: Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a defence think tank, on September 6, 2021 in London, England. Mr Blair, who served as prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007, reflected on the roots of Islamist extremism and the consequences of the Afghanistan withdrawal. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Labour MPs appeared to defy Keir Starmer's call to stay away from picket lines last week. (Getty Images)

Blair has urged the party to firmly reject threats of industrial action.

"You can have every sympathy for people who, as a result of the situation the economy's in - the cost-of-living crisis, high inflation - that they're angry about the situation, anxious about their terms and conditions of employment," said Blair.

"And that's why you can understand why these movements for strike action take place.

"But the truth is, if Labour wants to form a government, it's going to be very clear the country at the moment can't afford a whole wave of public sector strikes."

Read more: How does inflation in the UK compare to the EU?

He added: "Labour is going to have to decide what its position is on that - but it's got to decide it in a way that makes the public feel, whatever their sympathy are for people who are on strike, makes the public think Labour can be trusted with government."

Following the remarks, Blair faced some backlash.

"UK wages falling at the fastest rate for more than two decades," said Labour MP Diane Abbott, demonstrating the split in the party over the issue.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner expressed support for strikers last week. (Twitter/@angelarayner)

"But millionaire Tony Blair refuses to condemn below inflation pay rises says the Labour party should not support strikes."

The government has also rejected growing calls for pay rises - with Boris Johnson suggesting such a move would be pointless.

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“At a time when you've got inflationary pressures in an economy, there's no point in having pay rises that just cause further price rises because that just cancels out the benefit," Boris Johnson said last month.

“I know that people will find that frustrating. But I've got to be realistic with people about where we are. I think - I'm pretty certain of this - that our inflationary pressures will abate over time, and things will start to get better.”

Watch: BT workers vote to strike over pay