Strikes: The workers’ democratic right or needless disruption?

This post was written by a student. It has not been fact checked or edited.

When working conditions are deemed unfair, workers can go on strike - depriving the company of a work force - until their needs are satisfied. Historically strikes have been organised by unions as a type of protest with the aim of improving workers’ safety, pay, pensions or working hours.

The right to strike is a very important, if not controversial topic, particularly during the recent cost of living crisis when workers in lower paid jobs are more likely to take strike action when their pay does not keep up with inflation. However, the growing number of strikes in the UK across train drivers, teachers, nurses and junior doctors has a direct impact on the public that can make industrial action unpopular.

Strikes can be viewed as selfish and disruptive - as workers won’t do their job until their company or the state is forced to pay them more - especially in the healthcare industry, for example the NHS nurse strikes on the 30th April to the 1st of May where strikes can lead to cancelled operations. Or in the education sector, where prolonged teachers’ strikes could mean children missing a lot of school with negative effects on their education and future prospects.

However, it is important to remember that during a strike, workers aren’t paid, so participating in a strike directly affects their livelihoods, especially those already financially struggling.

Some may ask: Why then strike? Well, when workers do go on strike, I do not think they are necessarily the selfish ones, instead it is the owners of the company who do not want to pay higher wages and lower their profit. Or in the case of public sector workers the government could raise higher taxes or divert money from other spending in order to pay higher wages. Strikes are the last resort in many cases, which means other methods, like petitions, talks and mediation have been tried but failed, leaving workers with no other option.

It can be argued that strikes lower productivity amongst workers and can have a negative effect on the economy. But I think strikes are a peaceful, collective activism and that workers should have the right to challenge their companies or the state.

In January 2023 the UK government introduced the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill which could lead do workers losing their jobs if they do not provide a skeleton service on strike days. In my opinion anti-strike legislation limits the freedom of the workers right to strike and should not be supported.

I believe the right to strike is good for society. Strikes are for the people, they allow workers to engage with companies and governments on a more equal footing. When workers are paid fairly they are happier and less stressed and will provide a better service to the public. In my opinion, the benefits of striking far outweigh the negatives and the right to strike should be preserved.