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Why have Strikes in the UK been ineffective?


Image Source: Bloomberg


Within the last decade, worker strikes have lasted 41.9 days on average; despite this average, the most recent industrial disputes and strikes in the UK have lasted over 6 months, starting in June 2022. Strikes refer to the collective action taken by a group of workers who refuse to work as a form of protest in response to a particular issue or grievance. Strikes are usually organised by labour unions or other worker organisations and typically aim to put pressure on employers to meet the demands of workers regarding issues such as wages, benefits, working conditions, or job security. They can take many forms, from complete work stoppages to partial work stoppages, and can last for varying lengths of time. While there have been many ongoing strikes for public sector workers in the UK, none of them have been able to come to an agreement which satisfies their demands suggesting in the UK, strikes have not been as effective as in other countries.


Trade Unions in the UK


Some would argue The decline in trade union membership in the UK has had a significant impact on the effectiveness of strikes in recent years. In the 1970s, more than half of all workers were members of a union, but this figure has now fallen to less than a quarter. This decline in union membership has made it more difficult for workers to organize and take effective collective action, including strikes, to demand better working conditions, pay, and benefits.


Moreover, successive UK governments have passed legislation that has weakened the power of trade unions, making it harder for them to organize and take industrial action. For example, the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 introduced restrictions on the right to strike, including requiring unions to hold a ballot before taking industrial action and setting minimum turnout requirements for strikes to be lawful. The government also introduced the Trade Union Act 2016, which required unions to give notice to employers of their intention to take industrial action, and set new thresholds for strike ballots, making it harder for unions to take effective collective action.


The government has also made it more difficult for unions to raise revenue for industrial action, including strikes, by restricting the ability of unions to collect subs and introducing a requirement for members to opt-in to union political funds. This has reduced the resources available to unions to organize and take industrial action, making strikes less effective.


Economics Factors of Strikes


Economic factors have played a significant role in reducing the effectiveness of strikes in the UK, particularly in industries such as rail and healthcare, which have experienced strikes in recent years. One key economic factor that has affected strikes in the UK is inflation. Inflation is the rate at which prices of goods and services increase over time, and high inflation can make strikes less effective, as the cost of living increases and workers are left worse off than before.


In the UK, the inflation rate has been relatively high in recent years, reaching 10% in late 2021, which has made it more difficult for workers to achieve their goals through strikes. This is because high inflation erodes the value of wages and benefits, making it harder for workers to maintain their standard of living. As a result, workers may be less willing to take part in strikes or may be more willing to accept lower wage increases and other concessions to avoid the impact of inflation.


The UK has also experienced a long period of economic stagnation since the 2008 financial crisis. This has led to a prolonged period of low growth, high unemployment, and austerity measures, which have made it more difficult for workers to achieve their goals through strikes. During this period, many public sector workers, including nurses and rail workers, have experienced pay freezes or below-inflation wage increases, which have eroded their standard of living and made it more difficult for them to afford basic goods and services.


Moving Forwards


Despite the current lack of strength of trade unions in the UK, there are several steps that could be taken to make strikes more effective again. One key step would be to reform legislation that has restricted the power of trade unions, making it harder for workers to take collective action, including strikes. This could include repealing the Trade Union Act 2016, which introduced restrictions on union power, and replacing it with legislation that gives unions greater freedom to organize and take industrial action.


Another key step would be to address the underlying economic factors that have made strikes less effective, such as inflation and economic stagnation. This could include implementing policies to boost economic growth and reduce inequality, making it easier for workers to achieve their goals through collective action, including strikes. This could include investing in public services, such as healthcare and education, to provide better working conditions and higher pay for workers in these sectors.


Furthermore, there are actions that the public can take to support workers in their efforts to take effective collective action, including strikes. This could include joining and supporting trade unions, attending and organizing demonstrations and rallies, and engaging in social media and other forms of activism to raise awareness about the issues affecting workers.



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