Britain set for debate over right to strike

Derailed: A worker for Southern rail, whose strikes caused chaos over Christmas.

A series of strikes hit planes, trains and postal services this Christmas, affecting millions of people. Strikes have a long history — but should they be a right in the modern era?

What’s happening

Travelling to see loved ones. Posting cards. Flying off on holiday. All these festive traditions were under threat at Christmas as thousands of workers went on strike. For millions of Britons, Christmas has become the season of cancelled trains, late presents and delayed flights.

Find out more

Strikes involve workers, organised into trade unions, protesting against their employers by refusing to work. The unions’ current complaints are job losses and cuts to pay and pensions.

One trade unionist said the right to withdraw labour is ‘a fundamental British liberty that the vast majority of the public support’. It has a long tradition: the first recorded strike was in Egypt 3,200 years ago.

But such action causes misery for many. People cannot travel to work, which costs the country millions of pounds. This year the government introduced laws to make it harder for workers to strike. And with the rise in automation and self-employment, many are asking whether the right to strike is now out of date.

Some say…

The right to strike is too often abused. Union bosses put their own interests and beliefs ahead of those of the workers they claim to represent — not to mention the public. Working class solidarity matters less in today’s wealthier and more comfortable age. And employers can now replace, for example, drivers who complain with automated trains.

Others think…

It is still very important. Low-paid workers only have power if they stand together. Bosses tend to treat workers badly unless they fear the consequences of their actions. Striking workers help the public by highlighting issues with services they provide. And in a time of growing inequality, a strong working class voice is more vital than ever.

You Decide

  1. Is the right to strike out of date?

Activities

  1. Make a list of what you think are most important jobs in society.

Some People Say...

“Anyone who refuses to work should be sacked.”

What do you think?

Word Watch

Pensions
A regular payment made by employers people used to work for after they have retired. The government also pays a ‘state pension’ to ‘OAPs’ (old age pensioners).
Fundamental
Very important.
Automation
The use of automatic equipment with no or little human input (work by people).
Self-employment
When someone works for himself instead of for an employer who pays an agreed wage.
Solidarity
Unity or agreement among a group of people with a common interest or a shared job.

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