From the TUC

An inconvenient truth: the public on unions, strikes and big business

04 May 2014, By

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.

7 Responses to An inconvenient truth: the public on unions, strikes and big business

  1. Dave Penn
    May 5th 2014, 6:33 pm

    Great peace Carl, I have always said that the BBC do as they rental by the govrnment , Nd s for Mr Robinson used to work,for the Tory party

  2. Carl Roper

    Carl Roper
    May 5th 2014, 7:22 pm

    Thanks Dave. Have to remember that we have 6M members and 150,000 activists to tell the truth

  3. Trevor Nightingale
    May 5th 2014, 8:49 pm

    Nice one Carl ITS time that the Slant was turned Around and the Public Have, as far as i,m Cocerned Yes the so called Media always get it wrong apart from The Mirror and they can have thier
    momments but its usualy on the side of the Unions. Trev Nightigale EX shop steward and H&s REp now retired.

  4. Gregor Gall
    May 5th 2014, 9:43 pm


    Thanks for that. It’s a pity that the results of the 2011 survey ( don’t use the same categories so some of the data could be seen in a longer view. Unfortunately, I don’t think the British Social Attitudes survey provides any longitudinal data either on this.

  5. Padi Phillips
    May 12th 2014, 10:49 pm

    I’m glad to see that the findings of the survey are more positive than the media would like to portray, but it still doesn’t mitigate the fact that the mainstream trade union leadership has been totally craven in it’s ‘opposition’ to governments of the past 30 years or so.

    We have the prospect of the PCS union colluding with the government over the destitution of thousands of people through benefits sanctions.

    Where is the principled stand being taken by the trade union movement as a whole? I hear the same tired excuses for inaction all the time. It maybe that industrial action for ‘political’ purposes is unlawful, but what of it? Ultimately all industrial action is deeply political.

    I hasten to add that I am a union memeber, but not a member of a mainstream business union. I joined the IWW a union committed to getting rid of the problem, i.e. the abilition of capitalism and the wages system.

    I know there are a lot of good people who are members of mainstream unions, (some of the IWW’s most able and active members, for example) but maybe it’s time more of them started to think about making their unions a little more like the IWW?

  6. Carl Roper

    Carl Roper
    May 13th 2014, 9:22 am

    Thanks for the comment although I have to say that your contention that PCS is ‘colluding with the government over the destitution of thousands of people through benefits sanctions’ is utterly preposterous.

    PCS members are civil servants employed to do a job and frankly is it risible to suggest that their members should be expected to put their own livelihoods at stake in the way you suggest.

    That said, PCS has an outstanding record in taking action to defend the public sector and their members terms and conditions and has been more identifiably at the forefront of the struggle against the governments austerity programme. Certainly more than the IWW has.