21st December 2022
The UK is facing a stream of strikes, as nurses, ambulance drivers, railway staff, border control officers, ground crew and Heathrow, postal workers, Civil Servants, and the National Highways staff, demand action on better pay and working conditions. Years of underinvestment in staffing and resources has come to a head. Many of those on strike would argue that the short term inconvenience to the public is outweighed by the long term improvement to services that will derive from better paid and better resourced employees. Strikers hope that initially the threat of strike action and the inconvenience it could cause, would prompt those who control the purse strings to engage in a constructive resolution of the issue. That taking striking action has a financial impact on those taking part, should demonstrate the degree of commitment – of self sacrifice – of the employees towards their cause.
In many of these current disputes, it is the Government that is the ultimate controller of the purse strings. It is hard to find ways of directly inconveniencing the Government so inevitably it is the public who are inconvenienced. In 1990 between 180,000 and 250,000 members of the public gathered in London to march to the Houses of Parliament in protest to the poll tax. In 2003 between 750,000 and 2,000,000 members of the public joined a March to Hyde Park to protest against the Government’s decision to join the war against Iraq.
Does such action constitute ‘strike action’ in so far as the public are withholding their willingness to support the Government? Would one classify the Extinction Rebellion protests as strikes, as strikes protesting against the Government for their lack of action in response to the climate crisis? Would one classify the blocking of roads by Insulate Britain as they called upon the Government to insulate people’s homes, as strike action? Would one classify blocking roads by Just Stop Oil as they called upon the Government to stop new oil developments, as strike action?
Greta Thunberg has been widely celebrated and honoured as a climate activist. Every Friday she sat outside Parliament, deliberately absenting herself from school, demanding that her Government take serious and concerted effort to address the climate crisis. She named this as a School Strike.
Strikes, non-violent protests, marches, and signing petitions are all means by which we, the public, can call on the Government to take action that is in the public’s interest. Yes such action may cause the public short term inconvenience just as do other industrial strikes, but that inconvenience pales into insignificance when balanced against the ongoing and escalating inconvenience that the climate crisis will cause of action is not taken before it is too late. By 2030 the scientists tell us, our carbon emissions will need to have been halved, and by 2050 brought to net zero to prevent temperatures rising above the – barely safe – 1.5C limit.