July 25th, 2022

How the Energy Crisis Has Given Rise to Print Industry Strikes in the UK

Over the last year, energy prices have been skyrocketing – largely due to the global demand for energy outweighing the available supply. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has massively exacerbated this situation, as the energy provided by Russia – especially oil and natural gas – has had a significant impact on the global market.

As the world’s largest exporter of oil – and the second largest supplier of natural gas – the disruptions to production and trade with Russia caused by the conflict (not to mention the fears that Russia will restrict supply) have caused energy prices to soar. This has had a knock-on effect on many industries and has impacted the price of everything from utilities to consumer goods. So much so, that in May of this year the rate of inflation in the UK reached a 40-year high of 9.1% – a figure that continues to rise, hitting 9.4% in June. The aggregation of these factors has resulted in the ‘cost of living crisis, with Brits struggling to make ends meet as wages aren’t rising quickly enough to close the gap for workers. One industry that has been hit particularly hard by the soaring energy prices – in addition to sustaining other pressures such as the pandemic disrupted supply and trade and strikes – is the paper and print industry.

In the UK, an integral player in the print industry is Sun Chemical – the UK’s only ink manufacturer – with the company suffering losses in the millions in 2020. However, according to the DIC 2021 report (DIC being the corporation to which Sun Chemical belongs), the ink manufacturer generated profits of around £60 million in 2021. So, while the energy crisis is no doubt having a continued impact on the print industry, Sun Chemical – at least – is managing to retain a steep profit margin. When considered in this context, the proposed 3% wage increase offered by Sun Chemical to its employees throughout the UK has led to unrest among workers, as the proposed salary far from accommodates for the comparatively higher cost of living, essentially amounting to a pay cut.

Backed years of dissatisfaction, as Sun Chemical has consistently failed to increase salaries in line with the rate of inflation in the UK, hundreds went on strike last month, supported by Unite the Union. This reflects a trend throughout the UK in which trade unions across the country have begun to act to ensure workers are afforded a fair salary, taking into account the quickly rising cost of living – and the fact that many industries are thriving in spite of the crisis, making workers bear the financial impact of the disruption. Sharon Graham, general secretary for Unite the Union, warned that “there could be hundreds of disputes involving tens of thousands of people… if workers are made to pay the price for inflation”.

With that being said, although the print industry may be incurring greater costs as a result of the energy crisis and the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, workers shouldn’t be made to bear the financial impact of this – particularly when manufacturers are still making enormous amounts of profit. Sharon Graham argues that we should be “demanding an end to excessive profiteering” rather than encouraging workers to restrict their quality of living through wage restraint. If corporations within the print industry – and in countless other industries – throughout the UK don’t award the salary increase deserved by workers and made necessary by the cost of living crisis, Unite warns that there could be an influx of strikes and disputes initiated by workers across the country.

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