Strikes and Protests: the Trade Union way of Attention Seeking?

Last week BBC journalists became the latest to strike in opposition to job cuts. The one day walk-out caused little disruption to broadcasting and was more of an inconvenience than a disaster. However, the same cannot be said of other strikes in recent times. The teacher’s strike at the end of June was one example that caused widespread irritation and resentment. Why should innocent children have their education affected no matter what is going on with their teacher’s pension?


To strike or not to strike?

The answer seems clear: so the Trade Unions can grab yet more headlines. To the lay eye it appears that they have been doing this lots recently but mostly in negative ways such as Derek Simpson’s £500,000 “golden goodbye”.

Can their stubbornness over unnecessary strikes being held actually be seen as a reflection of their fear of being left behind and abandoned by Labour under Mr Miliband? They have always had links with Labour and the working classes but Miliband is bringing his party more to the centre of the political sphere and has already announced he wishes to limit the voting power of Trade Unions at Labour Party Conference. He has also had disagreements with the far left of his party due to his lack of support over recent strikes and for this even I hail the Leader of the Opposition. He has finally noticed something that the rest of the party seems not to have seen – Gordon Brown was too far left and never actually got elected into his position of Prime Minister by the electorate unlike Blair who sought the middle-ground more regularly.

I could understand the stubbornness of the Trade Unions if their methods actually had success. If they gained more influence, if a strike made people listen and encouraged a compromise between all parties. In reality, they anger and inconvenience the people, they annoy those they are trying to reach an agreement with and quite often only isolate their members further. Picket lines worry those trying to cross them, internal relationships between colleagues can be jeopardised and for what? Trade Unions to gain one more headline and feel secure in the knowledge that they are still needed in some way?

Strikes are not the only problem in post-modern society though, whereas protests used to be seen as a fairly effective method, the ways they are being used nowadays is shameful. The student protests in London at the end of last year can be used as a prime example; protesters smashed windows, started fires, threw objects such as eggs and placards at police and stormed CCHQ.

All this was indeed very headline-catching but who actually benefited? Not the shops that had to shut early in terror and lost business, not the peaceful students that were against the tuition fee rises and chose to protest peacefully because they were upstaged and over-shadowed. Certainly not the government or the police officers who sustained injuries in their line of duty, nor members of the royal family whose car was assaulted. The wider genre of “students” has also been tarnished and our image not helped by those involved in the riots and who were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time. Not even the students involved can really be said to have had a positive experience with over 100 arrested at the time and Charlie Gilmour now signifying all that was bad about those events. His sentence of 16 months imprisonment has been opposed but when his defence amounted to his voluntary intoxication due to consumption of a variety of drugs including LSD, it seems unrealistic for a prison sentence not to be imposed, especially when you consider the widespread anger he caused by using a Union Jack flag to try and climb upon a cenotaph. Although this was not actually part of his final conviction is certainly added fuel to the prosecution by media.

The point is though, nothing changed. The tuition fees are still being raised, jobs are still being cut at the BBC and life is still going on. Tough decisions have to be made to combat the recession and save money and people showing their lack of commitment to their employers and society by striking is helping no-one, let alone their own cause.

Whilst Trade Unions may continue to grab onto the few little bits of power they can, they may arrange strikes aplenty and fill the front pages of the newspapers, who is really listening? Their main allies are distancing themselves and they are not winning any new ones with their recent efforts. Perhaps someone should explain to the Unions the definition of a recession and that if their allies, Labour, hadn’t left the economy how it did, these strikes may not even have been necessary.


Posted on July 22, 2011, in Coalition Government, Comment, Labour Party, Party Politics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. This article is written with a stubborn old-fashioned dogma ‘drenched’ in resentment of Trades Unions. Without Trades Unions and quasi-unions working Men and Women would not have been given the right to vote. Furthermore, if it were not for direct action through strike/protest or civil disobedience Green issues would not ever have been on the agenda. The Trades Unions do not want power for the sake of becoming an arbitrary power centre vying for influence. The Trades Unions need power because they represent working people in different sectors and employments. I do not disagree that strike action does not have the power it has done in the past but, these are people’s livelihoods and quality of life, which have been fought for through collective action since the Tolpuddle martyrs. What other choice do people have in the face of losing their jobs, pensions and experiencing pay freezes? This is the only power left to the ordinary person to stop this government taking them to financial oblivion. If anything, strike action and union activity is a testament to the people of this country, who will not sit back and let an un-elected coalition government attack their standard of living.

    “The people should not be scared of their government; a Government should be scared of its people!”

  2. I am not making any statements about the Trade Unions in the past as I believe they were necessary and achieved a wealth of merits. However, it is the TUs of the present I have far less respect for, not due to “resentment” or anything else but due to the facts and how they are conducting their affairs. I, too, believe they should be representing working people but disagree with your statement that they do not want power “for the sake of becoming an arbitrary power centre” – that currently seems like exactly what they are setting out to achieve. People have many choices when in employment that seems unstable. The first is to help society fight the recession which (no matter on what anyone’s political views or allegiances are and this is not the place for debate of them) everyone can have their say at the ballot box. Voter turnout is ridiculously low compared to the percentage of people that moan about the state of the economy, globalisation, green issues or any other item on the political agenda. I believe it is the people that should be setting the political agenda and if people are active enough in this then governments will have to listen. I believe this can be done through legitimate means however without aspects like strikes disrupting our children’s education.

    As for the coalition being unelected, the Conservative Party got more votes than any other party, the Lib Dems came third, do you believe the Conservatives should have formed a minority government in this case? (Genuine question, not a rhetorical one as this is a question that many Lib Dems and Tories alike have wondered over the past year?) Coalitions are not overly British I will admit but are very common elsewhere.


    I would just like to point out that even though Rest of UK fees are a total disaster in Scotland, the SNP have committed to no tuition fees for Scottish students studying in Scotland (as did every party except Conservatives in the run-up to the election) and this wouldn’t have happened if it the student protests didn’t happen. Those protests and the hatred and anger they represented ensured that education stayed free. No one wanted to be the next Clegg who received the biggest portion of the anger at the 10/11 protest. Sometimes protests and stikes actually work.

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