After two years of labor peace and shrinking incomes, Britain's restive workers are striking and threatening strikes all across the economic map.
Workers in power plants and coal mines and civil servants who fight fires, collect taxes and guard against smugglers are all putting pressure on a Labor Party government that is trying to hold an anti-inflation lid on pay.
In several cases - coal, power and firemen - rank-and-file workers are defying their union leaders to press for gains that will restore the buying power lost in the last two years.
So far, few Britons have suffered more than inconvenience from the disputes, but the government's hopes of holding wage gains to 10 per cent have been shattered and the only question now is by how much this guideline will be exceeded.
The power workers have caused the greatest discomfort so far with brief electricity blackouts that occur without warning. The workers, who average about $128 a week, are ignoring the pleas of their union chiefs and refusing to perform any overtime or take on the tasks of absent workers.
They are demanding extra pay to travel to distant generators and a bigger premium for night work. The dispute is snarled by the refusal of their employer, the state, to bargain with them on grounds that this would undercut the establish leadership.
There were fewer power cuts today because supervisors and non-union engineers manned some generators that had been shut down but blackouts in London still forced courts to work by candlelight this morning. Tonight, power went off for a few minutes in a hospital while an 85-year-old woman was on the operating table. She died of a heart attack, but hospital authorities said that the power loss could not be blamed entirely.
Tonight, it looked as if the power workers' slowdown was coming to an end. The shop stewards leading the action called for a return to normal work on Wednesday, provided the government agrees to consider their demands.
The most dramatic strike, 15 months old, involves a handful of workers at a north London film developing plant. Violence broke out there again today as it has several times in the past.
The trade union movement has made the plant, Grunwick, an organizing symbol and has sent thousands of pickets to prevent 130 men and women from going to work. The police, as they have in the past, responded with at least 4,000 of their own to clear a way.
Pickets and police fought bitter battles with fists, nightsticks and bricks. When the dust settles, 108 pickets had been arrested and 42 police and an unknown number of demonstrators were treated in hospitals for injuries.
The dispute here stems from an attempt by 90 Grunwick strikers - all fired - to compel a determined employer to recognize their union.
The most ominous dispute is the threat of firemen across the country to walk out next Monday unless their demand for a 30 per cent pay increase is satisfied.
Union leaders urged the firemen's delegates to keep negotiating with government, but they were voted down. "It's horrfying to think what could happen," one said.
Tonight, Prime Minister James Callaghan and his Cabinet agreed to use troops if the firefighters do walk out.
The most significant dispute involves the 260,000 miners, a bellwether for large settlements. Last week, they rejected their executive board's advice and voted down a proposed "productivity" pay plan. In fact, the plan was little more than a thinly disguised formula for the government to give the miners substantially more than the 10 per cent guideline.
Most in England voted for the scheme, but miners in Wales, Scotland and Yorkshire, where local leaders are militantly leftist, overcame the English ballots.
The union is now formally committed to a 90 per cent pay increase, a proposition that would wreck any hope of containing a national wage explosion.
As if this was not enough for Callaghan and company, 105,000 civil servants plan a half-day stoppage Tuesday in an attempt to speed up a government study fo their claim for higher pay.