Who runs Britain?
Joseph Terry examines the ongoing strikes in Britain to unearth: who is really running the country?
December 2022 in the UK can be considered the month of the striking worker, as much as the month of the hurried shopper or the month of overplayed pop songs.
December has already seen strikes from teachers in Scotland; a Royal Mail postal workers strike with the agreement of no deliveries by 97.6 per cent of its members; a UCU (University and College Union) strike—directly affecting Exeter University students; and now a Royal College of Nurses strike over nearly all the United Kingdom bar few NHS trusts in the Southeast of England. Furthermore, strikes will continue throughout the festive period and the new year, with many unions repeating industrial action, most notably the Rail workers in what is becoming a regular occurrence in 2022.
The question from this industrial action is who runs the UK? Have we reverted to an era where the trade unions and industrial spokespeople like General Secretary of the Rail Union Mick Lynch are now more powerful than elected representatives? Practically one could argue so – my experience of a two-change five-hour train journey back home for Christmas, becoming a three-change seven-hour journey on account of delayed trains and fewer services running presents that beyond the rhetoric of causing disruption implied by the Unions as they urge for dialogue with the Secretary of State, strikes affect people greatly.
Have we reverted to an era where the trade unions and industrial spokespeople like General Secretary of the Rail Union Mick Lynch are now more powerful than elected representatives?
They also cause anger and distrust of the Unions themselves. Therefore, believe that the Unions and their right to industrial action do not run the country – and if they did you could class it as a tyranny. Support for industrial action fell in December from October as recorded by Ipsos Mori – the same study presenting 36 per cent opposition to the strike action (31 per cent in September) and 30 per cent support (having fallen from 43 per cent in September). Trends may imply that the 27 per cent neutral respondents would be more likely to skew towards the opposition. Even more worrying for the Trade Unionists are the figures that 35 per cent of respondents portray the Unions as having too much power in Britain and only 19 per cent as too little. Despite a stable lack of sympathy for the government during the cost-of-living crisis – for the Unions to be powerful they need public support, and if they lack popular support actions to undermine Union power will become warranted in the eyes of many. For as much as the Winter of Discontent (a comparison often made to the modern day which seems slightly too simple or reductive) presented the power of the Union movement, the countermovement against Trade Unions was perceived as just and necessary.
Without popular support, the Trade Unions can be seen, by the most oppositional, as pirates; by the most supportive of Trade Unions, they are fighting injustice. Push comes to shove, the neutral respondent will sway to the former when it is their surgery or train service, or post that is affected. Without popular support, Trade Unions cannot be running Britain – however, support is fluid.
Without popular support, the Trade Unions can be seen, by the most oppositional, as pirates; by the most supportive of Trade Unions, they are fighting injustice.
If the trade unions don’t run Britain then, surely, the government does. However, when stories get leaked of Conservative MPs calling for Sir Keir Starmer to avert a general strike – one could not conclude this either. A general strike would be an ideological victory for the Conservatives, but certainly not a victory in these dog days of economic mismanagement and recovery. Is the mild-mannered, often maligned Labour leader running the country after all? As the intermediary between the political and industrial arms of the Labour movement – perhaps he may run Britain as it lies on the knife edge of a general strike.