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Do strikes ever work?

Nationally, as many as 750,000 public sector workers – members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union – are striking tomorrow over changes to public sector pensions.

The Government wants them to pay more into their pension schemes, work longer and to link pension values to the lower consumer prices index (CPI) rather than the retail prices index (RPI).

Alan Rutter, secretary of the Cumbrian branch of the National Union of Teachers, says more than 95 per cent of the union’s members in Cumbria who took part in the strike ballot support the day of action.

He predicts that every single school in Cumbria will be affected, with potentially more than 100 schools across the county forced to close.

Alan McGuckin, regional organiser for the union Unite offers an emphatic one-word answer to the question: do strikes ever work? Yes.

It could be a short conversation, but he goes on to explain: “It is a human right.

“Strikes are the only guaranteed resource that working people can use to defend themselves.

“No one enters into them lightly.

“The first action of any oppressive government is to deny the right to strike.

“When you are forced into a corner, when you are being put upon, when your voice is not being heard, then the ultimate action is to withdraw your labour and anyone who denies that is on a slippery sinister slope.

“Everyone would choose to negotiate, but withdrawing your labour is a vital and only weapon that working people have.

“An employer will say ‘accept this or lose jobs’, a government will say ‘accept this or the economy will be ruined’.

“The only thing working people can say is ‘mitigate this or we will strike’.

“Nobody takes strike action without serious consideration of other action.

“It is a fundamental human right that society would rue if it was ever lost.”

County council leader Eddie Martin agrees that it is the right of every worker to withdraw their labour.

But the leader of the Conservative group adds: “To the victims of the strike, whether by bus drivers, milkmen, care workers or teachers, there is an impact.

“They do make a difference, whether they garner sympathy for those going on strike is another matter.


“Strikes are harmful, almost by definition. They are bound to inflict pain economically and personally on those not receiving care.

“The economic consequences of strike action are always harmful and the political consequences can be: the strikes of 1978 had an effect on the Prime Minister James Callaghan, the miners strike of 1984 had an effect on Neil Kinnock and Mrs Thatcher won the election while the miners lost a lot of public support.”

“Strikes are the bargaining tool of last resort. It is my firm belief that it is the right of every employee to withdraw their labour if they so choose.

“If we accept that a strike is the last resort, it presupposes that everything else, including peaceful negotiations has failed.

“If I consider my pay is not adequate for what I am doing and you are not prepared to improve it, I have no alternative but to withdraw my labour.”

Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart supports the right to strike, but warns that the effectiveness of industrial action depends on whether the strikers carry public opinion with them.

“Yes, they can work, the trades union movement has played a very important and positive role in British history for a long time. The question is: when is the right time to strike?

“A lot of advances have been made by the trades union movement, it would be foolish not to recognise that contribution and there needs to be a way of employees expressing their point of view against management.

“The secret of successful strike action is widespread public support.

“It is not just about being democratic in terms of membership, it is about also having the support of the public.

“There is a place for a vigorous debate. It would be a sad thing if teachers go on strike at the moment.

“The tests for strike action are does it command the support of the majority of the members you are taking action on behalf of and are you capable of getting the support of public opinion.”


Alan Rutter says: “There are strikes that have made a difference and some that have not.

“At the end of the day, teachers are the most mild-mannered people who would not want to lose a day’s pay.

“Striking is one of those things you get driven to.

“This can be stopped right up to the day before. We can step back from it.”

He says that working to rule by teachers would cause more disruption to the education of pupils than the one-day strike.

“We can’t work to rule because there are no rules that the teachers work to, they all go far beyond what is expected.

“If we stopped after-school classes it would hurt pupils more.

“Do strikes make a difference? As teachers we have so little evidence because we have so rarely gone on strike that it will only become apparent afterwards.


“We are doing it as responsibly as possible and there are a number of instances where our members have things going on like exams or residential visits where our members are told not to strike and damage children’s education.”

Have your say

For the first time in 43 years I have gone on strike, having served in the armed services, Police the old Customs and Excise, HMRC and I am now just about to retire. My salary has never been brilliant and I have no illusions about the cant of democracy put out by the Government or any Government for that matter. But in the heart of this is the issue of a contract between the Government and the people and the law of contract is the issue, not the rights and wrongs of who agrees we should have a pension or who plundered whose pension. A contract is sacrosanct in LAW- it cannot be breached unilateraly and only both in the contract can agree to a change. That is a fundamental of British Law. If that contract is voided there is no contract and there is a right of the injured party to withdraw from the contract. The obverse of that contract is if the Government wish to withdraw, then they must pay each an everyone of us the value of our contributions at the mutually agreed valuation and allow us to make our own provision.It cannot then determine a unilateral change and a new rate.Public sector workers did not cause this issue. I am also rather fed up with being pidgeon holed. I am a tax payer at the full rate, I am a member of the Public, I have an opinion, I am also a Parent, have been a carer and I have been consistently failed by a state that has demanded all these payments. In return I have had no help from the state and I am consistently being told what I should think by the various organs of the state. Finally I would also like to point out that there are no parts of the Private sector which do not depend on large contracts on the state. In short strikes are a sign of major discontent with the way people are treated and politicians whould disregard them at their peril. There is widespread anger at the consistently "we know better than you" attitude portrayed by the self serving political class who are ensuring that they will not be affected. I am also annoyed by the dependance of opinion on a small sector who think that they actually (in the private sector)are the only people who are the contributers to the state.So the BBC could be a lot less biased. One final note to Francis Maude- you do sound rather trite and I know that you are talking drivvel.

Posted by LeoRoverman on 2 July 2011 at 12:17

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