An inconvenient truth: the public on unions, strikes and big business
I share the frustration and anger felt by all trade unionists about the way industrial action is often reported by sections of the media (ok, the BBC, ITV, Sky and most newspapers).
Rather than explaining what the strike is about and exploring why the workers taking action have felt compelled to do something that results in them losing pay, all too often reports focus on how the actions of the union – never the intransigent employer – are inconveniencing the public and threatening the economy.
During the February tube strike I watched one report in which the BBC’s Nick Robinson (yes, I know) searched desperately for a commuter who was prepared to say that workers who provide essential services should be banned from going on strike. He found no one.
During the industrial action taken by teachers in March, ITV’s Daybreak programme ran a poll asking its viewers if they thought teachers should be allowed to strike. Much to their credit, 70% of Daybreak viewers thought they should be.
The pattern that emerges is that when asked, the public don’t quite share the often hysterical anti union, anti strike opinions adopted by newspapers and some TV channels, and a similar message has come out of a recently published Populus poll for the BBC’s Daily Politics and World at One programmes.
When asked if going on strike was legitimate ‘if in a ballot of union members the majority of those voting called for it’, 60% of respondents agreed it was. Whilst there was a mixed reaction to specific strikes, with the public more sympathetic to industrial action by firefighters than that taken by teachers or workers on the tube, considering respondents were asked to base their responses on ‘everything they’d heard and read’ this might not be considered too much of a surprise.
Finally the poll had a sting in the tail for the pro-business, anti union brigade with the finding that the public consider that they have more to fear these days from the conduct of big business than unions.
Whilst I’ve personally given up on the prospect of unions ever getting a fair hearing in the media – it’s just not in the wider political and economic interests of most proprietors to do so – the findings of this latest poll should give unions some confidence that at least as far as the public is concerned, unions and the right of our members to strike are regarded as an important part of living in a democratic society and are certainly less of a problem than what results from the actions of big business.