Some of the union members and supporters who came to Parliament to lobby their MP on the trade union bill. Photo: Jess Hurd / reportdigital.co.uk
Lowest-ever strike figures: So why did we need the Trade Union Act again?
0.0029%. That’s the proportion of working days lost to strikes in the UK last year.
81,000. That’s the number of people who went on strike in 2015. It’s actually the lowest-ever number since records began in 1893.
106. That’s the total number of strikes that took place in the UK last year. It’s less than half the number of strikes in 1995, an eighth of in 1985, and a twentieth of in 1975.
Yet despite this inarguable, long-term decline in industrial action, the government insisted on pushing forward with the Trade Union Act, which undermines the right to strike. Why?
Listening to government ministers debating the passage of the Act, you’d swear that the UK was engulfed in permanent industrial strife, with strikes crippling the economy.
The statistics show something different, however. They show that:
- Strikes are rare – very rare
- Strikes are mostly over within three days (60% of them, in fact)
- Strikes are mostly (70%) about people looking for fair pay. That’s fair enough, given that UK real wages fell by more than 10% in the last decade, at the same rate as Greece.
Strikes aren’t easy. They’re stressful experiences for everyone, involving a lot of difficult rules, and if you’re on strike, you’re not getting paid.
What these figures tell us is that strikes are only being used as a very last resort, when a bad employer refuses to negotiate, and refuses to compromise.
Some strike are about conditions – like when bakers in Wigan went on strike to ensure that new employees got proper contracts – and some are about pay – like when cinema workers fought for a living wage.
Ultimately the best way to keep the number of strikes low isn’t to try to restrict people’s democratic rights, but instead to address the problems that are causing people to take this last resort step. That means ensuring that people have real opportunities, decent conditions, and of course fair pay for a fair day’s work.
Theresa May has spoken about a new industrial strategy aimed at raising wages – it’s time to live up to that promise and get Britain the pay rise it needs and deserves.