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A question about strikes

(14 Posts)
MrsVidic Tue 21-Jun-11 06:29:16

hi, I'm 28 so have no memory of industrial action apart from the BA strikes recently. I just want to get some info as I think I may have the wrong end of the stick as I don't see how they work.
The thing I don't understand is why if ppl choose to strike they want to seem to bully others to join them (picket lines etc) ? Does everyone have to strike? Why do they get angry at ppl for wanting to keep their jobs etc what if some ppl can't afford to strike? Have any strikes worked? Do they just delay the inevitable or is this action rewarded? If it is rewarded what's to stop strikes over anything?

meditrina Tue 21-Jun-11 06:51:34

I am old enough to remember the strikes of the 70s - before union reform and where there might have been a place for accusations of bullying (balloting in the open, unrestricted picketing, wildcats, secondary action permitted).

Those excesses are no longer lawful, I think the balance is about right and it's not about bullying, it's about collective action. Clue in the name "Union".

A vote for industrial action by a union will bind all its members to supporting that action, unless the union has a specific "conscience clause" allowing personal opt out (eg ATL). This is a strength - all union members must be balloted, it must be a secret ballot, there are time limits for validity of the ballot and about notice for action. I think it is a disappointment that so few voted in the teaching unions who have balloted, and PCS (none getting a turn out above 36%). This may because people do join unions for other benefits (eg insurance, legal aid etc) but it's not a "pick and mix"

Unions may provide strike pay. It is up to the union membership to work out the cost/effectiveness benefit of their choices.

It's more of a moot point whether strikes work. In the early days they certainly did (go back to the very origin of the word and phossy jaw). I'm not sure of any clearcut examples in recent times. Even bringing down the Govt in the 1970s did not bring the expected outcomes in the long term.

CogitoErgoSometimes Tue 21-Jun-11 07:11:53

The bullying has softened to 'peer pressure' and it is at the heart of how unions work. Together workers are stronger than individuals on their own - but if too many individuals fail to support the union, it has no power. So your fellow union members are going to lean on you, pricking your conscience and making you feel guilty if you don't want to participate. In the 70's (which I also remember very well) it really was bullying. If you've ever seen the film 'Billy Elliot', that portrays the misery inflicted upon anyone that broke the strike - ranging from physical assault and threats to social exclusion. Aggressive groups of flying pickets would arrive at totally unrelated businesses, making them down tools under threat of damaging equipment, for example.

Strikes have worked in the past. A good example can be seen in the film 'Made In Dagenham' - a true story set in the 1970s when female Ford factory workers successfully downed tools in protest against being regraded as 'unskilled' and also against unequal pay for women.

In the subsequent 40+ years employment law has improved considerably in the areas of equal pay, working conditions, sick pay, leave entitlement... so there are fewer serious matters for workers to strike about. The main complaints now are usually around pay and pensions & job losses. What's to stop them striking over everything? Better inclusion of workers' representatives in top-line decision-making, commonsense and a degree of pragmatism mostly. Union leaders far better at taking the long view than they used to be.

Isitreally Tue 21-Jun-11 12:00:32

Does everyone have to strike?
If your union has voted to strike then you are supposed to go on strike even if you didn't vote or voted no. However not all union members choose to go on strike. Many because they cannot afford to lose a day's pay but some because they do not agree with it. Some professions have high union membership because the members want legal help should they ever be accused of anything (for example in nursing or in teching) rather than because a lot of people want union help over pay and conditions.

Why do they get angry at ppl for wanting to keep their jobs etc what if some ppl can't afford to strike?
Other members get angry because a union is only powerful if all it's members support each other and support what the union decides to do. Nowadays it is more subtle pressure but once upon a time it could be actual violence.

Have any strikes worked? Do they just delay the inevitable or is this action rewarded?
Not really - not recently anyway. Generally they work indirectly ie they force the powers that be into a quicker settlement or a better settlement through ongoing talks with the threat of strike if the talks break down. Generally the threat of strikes is effective if used as a nuclear option to keep talks and negotiations on track.

If it is rewarded what's to stop strikes over anything?
Nothing and the Government is likely therefore to crack down on strikes through new legislation eg insisting that a 50% turnout has to be achieved to make the strike legal and valid. At the moment far less than 50% of members have been voting overall and some of those voted no.

HarrietJones Tue 21-Jun-11 13:02:02

Lots of professions have limits to what you can strike over. Eh you can strike over terms & conditions but not over the job itself( eh teachers can't strike over new schemes of work)

MrsVidic Tue 21-Jun-11 19:00:07

thanks for the info- it's really interesting. I feel much more informed now grin

ChairOfTheBored Sat 25-Jun-11 08:58:49

I work in a unionised sector, and there will be strikes next week. I'm not a member of the union at our place, as I disagree with the stance of the union's leadership on too many things. I have never felt any pressure from colleagues to join, or to strike. I could never be in a union which has voted to strike and not strike though - it's at the heart of what a union is.

Union membership is important. I can understand why it is discredited to an extent in the UK but it is a fundamental human right, recognised by the UN, and union action has lead to huge steps forward in the history of the UK, and now in developing nations.

Mercifully there will be now pickets at work on Thursday. I hate hte idea of crossing a picket line.

JoleneJoleneJoleneJoleeene Sat 25-Jun-11 09:09:04

If you are a member of the union you should strike. Thats the whole point, that you are united.

Feenie Sat 25-Jun-11 09:10:48

Meditrina*I think it is a disappointment that so few voted in the teaching unions who have balloted, and PCS (none getting a turn out above 36%).*

The NUT turnout was 40% (still not wonderful).

meditrina Sat 25-Jun-11 09:21:11

The turnout (when voting for action, not representation IYSWIM) is very low. The BBC, when news of the strikes broke, headlined their news as "92% of teachers voted for strike action" - not the more accurate 92% of the 35% who voted - so around 32% of teachers in that union voted for strike action.

When as many as two thirds do not even vote, it becomes much harder to make your case that this a vital interest to the group.

I think calls for a quorum on a strike vote will get louder.

Feenie Sat 25-Jun-11 09:29:15

"92% of teachers voted for strike action" - not the more accurate 92% of the 35% who voted - so around 32% of teachers in that union voted for strike action.

Meditrina, that's not right. 92% backed the strike action with a turn-out of 40% from the NUT (that's 37% voting for industrial action). I take your point completely, but your figures are wrong.

meditrina Sat 25-Jun-11 09:35:07

Sorry - I conflated with ATL, where it was 83% of 35% turnout in favour (or 29% in favour of action).

Putthatbookdown Mon 27-Jun-11 23:00:42

There is a shortage of teachers in some subjects - so they do not care. Loads of jobs for Maths teachers

ttosca Tue 28-Jun-11 02:15:58

If it is rewarded what's to stop strikes over anything?

Do you really think strikers are going to strike over the fact that there isn't a coke machine where they work? People who strike take striking very seriously. Most workers aren't paid when they are on strike, and are losing pay for every day they strike.

Sometimes strikes are necessary because of an inflexible, exploitative employer and to, quite simply, defend the rights of employees.

Nothing

Complete nonsense. In fact, many of the rights we enjoy today are the result of people and unions striking and fighting for rights at work.

and the Government is likely therefore to crack down on strikes through new legislation eg insisting that a 50% turnout has to be achieved to make the strike legal and valid. At the moment far less than 50% of members have been voting overall and some of those voted no.

This would be a mistake on their part, causing widespread industrial unrest. It would not go down well with the public, either, who are largely sympathetic to people suffering from public sector cuts (because they are, in fact, suffering themselves).

The UK already has some of the toughest anti-union and anti-strike laws in europe. It is already very difficult to strike.

Furthermore, requiring 50% of members to vote for strike action wouldn't go down well coming from a coalition government which received a minority of the vote - with the Tories receiving a small minority of the votes out of the eligible population.

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