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The Guardian view on Sunak’s strikes: to be more inflexible than Thatcher is a flaw | Editorial

The prime minister should be like his political idol and award inflation-proof pay rises to end industrial strife by key workers

Rishi Sunak sees himself as heir to Margaret Thatcher – but in dealing with December’s strikes, which version of the former prime minister does he want to be? Mrs Thatcher was an ideologue who claimed the backlash against the “winter of discontent” in 1978-79 represented a “sea change” in public opinion and a mandate to “clip the wings” of trade unions. But she was also a pragmatist who in 1979 gave public sector workers a 25% pay rise – roughly double the rate of inflation and more than the 19% received by private sector workers – to avert a second successive “winter of discontent”. Mr Sunak’s tribute act prefers ideological posturing to practical solutions: proposing new anti-strike laws that the Lords won’t pass as he has no electoral mandate to enact them; and doubling down on pay restraint for key workers.

This strategy is disastrous for the public sector – leading to falling recruitment, worsening services and escalating industrial strife. The prime minister is out of touch with a nation growing restive over the unreliability and increasing dereliction of state-financed services. Millions of underpaid Britons struggling with a growing cost of living crisis seem, for now, empathetic towards rolling strikes from NHS, post and rail workers, as well as planned action by teachers and border force staff.

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