OPINION: Why striking workers need to move with the times
If there is one thing guaranteed to wind up an Englishman it is delaying his journey from A to B.
Keep the John Bull stereotype waiting on a railway platform, airport terminal or, heaven forbid, dockside at the ferry port then you are cruising for a verbal bruising at the very least. Keep us waiting because you are on strike then you can go to hell because, despite all the recent political posturing over the right to take industrial action, it isn’t a very English thing to do.
Striking is probably the only thing, other than making red wine, that the French will beat us hands down at because causing disruption is at odds with our nation’s psyche. So why is there a sizeable chunk of the population who are so determined that the ‘right to strike’ is not diminished by a Tory government which is clearly enjoying the freedom of going it alone after having had to operate with the Lib Dem handbrake on for five years? For the pro-strikers, those who largely sit on the left of any political argument, argue that having the ability to strike is a fundamental right and one that has been cherished by working classes for many generations.
They are vehemently opposed to the Trade Union Bill, which would mean that 50 per cent of a workforce would have to turn out for a ballot on industrial action in order for it to be legal along with a proposal which would mean that unions would have to give 14 days’ notice of a strike to employers, giving bosses the chance to bring in agency staff as cover.
Opponents to the Bill claim it will make it ‘almost impossible’ for workers to exercise what they argue is something that is both a democratic right and a civil liberty, but many of us will ask what is wrong with insisting that potential mass disruption is not wreaked by a very vocal minority?
But to me, striking seems a very outdated practice and one that my fellow countrymen are not very good at. Many of us will recall the last major teachers’ strike, back in 2008, and one which gave parents everywhere a headache for a day.
But we all survived that considerable inconvenience and that was arguably the last time our nation has shared the pain of industrial action. Yes, we have seen our transport networks temporarily disrupted but the average worker is more resilient than the counterparts of the 1980s.
The dawn of flexible and remote working means that many office workers will log on from the comfort of their living rooms rather than venture into the City and be at the mercy of a chopsy trade union official.
It may well be because of this huge shift in working practices that direct industrial action is no longer as effective as it was a generation ago. In a world where campaigns can be won and lost in a couple of keystrokes, surely there are plenty of opportunities for trade unions and concerned employees to make a strong case in other ways.
There are many out there who, while they sympathise with some workers who suffer at the hands of incompetent bosses, view direct industrial action as archaic and the preserve of a selfish minority.