On the Legitimacy of Strikes

My good friend Joel compares the turnouts in Strike Ballots with the turnouts in elections. Obviously, it’s ridiculous to say a person “was elected by 25% of the electorate” when 50% of those who voted voted for him. Abstention is a legitimate democratic choice. The same is true of strike ballots. Perhaps 30% of members return their ballots. Of whom there might be a majority in favour of strike action. This doesn’t mean the “strike is supported by 15% of the members” to take the rather dishonest Tory line. What is more reasonable is the line taken by the Tory MP on the Today programme this morning, who said in an election, everyone affected can vote, and can choose not to. However a strike affects people who do not have a vote.

The Union barons are whining that Margaret Thatcher’s evil anti-union legislation, which demanded postal ballots for strike action is preventing high turnouts. Why, they ask, can’t there be work-place ballot boxes? Had anyone bothered to look at why all-postal ballots are insisted upon in the legislation, they would know that it is a measure to prevent intimidation by Union organisers in the workplaces. Who would oversee those secret ballots? The Union reps, who would then be tempted to influence the result…. 
What the Union Barons want is for people to turn up to work, and vote on a strike ballot overseen by the union, so the union members can be subject to the same intimidation and thuggery that they were in the good-old days of the 1970s, which increases union power in negotiations with “the Bosses”, supposedly for the benefit of the workers, but in practice so the Union barons can feel all important.
Strikes, though romanticised by the Union movement and the broader left as part of the “Workers Struggle”, have actually achieved very little in the way of improvements in pay or conditions. What has driven pay and conditions is productivity and investment. What a strike does is encourage the bosses to fire people and, where possible, employ machines. The people running the machines will be paid well enough so they regard themselves as one of the bosses, and so don’t strike.
The very point of a strike is to impose costs on the bosses, and broader society so that the monopolistic power of employers can curtailed, and the rewards for labour are more evenly shared. But employers don’t have monopolistic power any more. Educated people especially don’t need Unions, because there are plenty of people hiring. UK unemployment is low thanks, in part, to flexible Labour markets that allow people to be taken on “on risk” because getting rid of them should they turn out to be unsuitable is not too costly either for the employer or employee. The idea that “bosses” still have the power, absent any legislation or unions, to drive down pay and conditions in a “race to the bottom” is risible. The strike then, is a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem. 
The problem is not bosses beating up on the poor, downtrodden worker, but the workers in safe, secure jobs, pulling up the drawbridge behind them. Every time there’s a strike, there’s an incentive for workers not yet hired to never be hired, and their wages spent on a machine instead. Or in businesses folding because the labour relations are too much bother, or not being started in the first place, because even taking on one member of staff, risks bankruptcy.
If you don’t like the pay and conditions in your current employment, get your lazy arse to City and Guilds, the Open University or whatever, and call your head-hunter. Yes, be prepared to move, if necessary. But if you want to enjoy the moral high-ground of “serving the public” in tax-funded (secure, well-paid relative to the private sector, and enjoying a gold-plated pension) public sector, please don’t expect me to have any sympathy when, following the strike, you’re outsourced to the lowest bidder. For that is the logic of strikes.
If you’re on strike, feel my contempt for your spiteful, economically illiterate, selfish stupidity. 
9 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I agree with everything you say about the effect of strikes on strikers. In the past, an employer had clout to retaliate with lockouts and fire'n'rehire, but the balance is now skewed towards the strikers, and an employer cannot get redress.
    More relevant when the strikers inconvenience the public, the strike stops being a way of conducting an industrial dispute. In my view, the public out to be able to demand compensation, rather like the EU regulation that gives you Euro600 if a flight is delayed more than six hours …

  2. Longrider
    Longrider says:

    Indeed. I was involved in the signaller strike twenty years ago. it achieved nothing and soured working relationships for no good reason. we settled for what was on the table when we started. Signallers have resisted striking ever since – despite Bob Crow trying to get them out on more than one occasion.

    As for the public sector suffering from "austerity" get real. Those of us in the private sector – especially the self-employed have also seen our earnings flat-line or even fall and we are still expected to pay for the public sector's demands for more. Fuck off already.

    Like you, I have no sympathy.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Regarding teachers' pensions, teachers are on one of two schemes: the old scheme and the new scheme. Both allow collecting up to 45 years of contributions at just above 6% of salary (before tax) plus an employers' contribution, which means us. In the old scheme a teacher gains a pension of 1/80 of their final salary per year of service, plus a tax-free lump sum of 3/80 final salary per year of service. In the new scheme it is 1/60 but with no lump sum (although you can get one if you settle for a lower pension). Thus, a teacher could get 3/4 of their final salary – say a pension of £30k on a salary of £40k. There are some beneficial subtleties in the scheme that improve this, and few that worsen it, but that's the deal. Add in getting a £5k state pension, and not having the costs of getting to work, and said teacher could be better off retired than working. The lump sum balances things for teachers on the old scheme. The pension is index-linked to CPI.
    Is this so terribly bad? Is there a private pension scheme that pays out as well?

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    And I forgot to add that said retired teacher no longer pays either their pension contribution OR National Insurance, and is thus actually better off on a pension than working by a clear margin …
    Some Labour LAs don't even dock strikers their pay.
    Still believe they are being hard done by?
    Perhaps they could strike during their long holidays.

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    They are striking about 'Workload, pay and pensions' according to the NUT website. My observations are about the latter of these, but I could equally well have commented on the others. A teacher can easily work into their 60s starting at age 21. The present pension scheme allows them to retire at 60, or earlier if there is an inducement to do so.

    • donnie
      donnie says:

      So they are. I think Gove's other reforms might have something to do with it too.

      Also, very few teachers will start work at twenty one and I understand the new deal is 1/57 of average not final pay.

      Still a very good pension.


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