I have never been on strike, even when the councils where I worked were on strike I felt it was my duty to go into work. I was in two minds about the merits of striking then and, as I sit on a very cold platform at Morpeth station as the Northern Rail workers are on strike, I still am.
I am not sure if strikes serve a purpose. Do they ever achieve the objectives that underpin the action? Yet, on the other hand I am left wondering what other alternatives does a worker have. In many employment situations it is the employer that has the upper hand. However well intentioned they are, an employer can make it very awkward for anyone that works for them. They can make it uncomfortable to come to work and I would question why anyone would want to bite the hand that ultimately feeds them.
As Upton Sinclair put it, ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.’
What bothers me though is that I have read my history and understand that many of the rights that we enjoy in the workplace these days have come on the back of a determined campaign of industrial organisation and action, including the withdrawal of labour. These rights have at times been hard won with strife, deprivation and harsh responses from those in power. The gradual creep from a feudal work system to a modern environment has not been smooth and today it seems as if we have lost sight of the struggle.
Everything is rosy now and the rights of working people are well embedded in our system, or are they? The world is changing very rapidly. The rise of technology is making enormous changes in the workplace, some of which are very disruptive. As Uber has shown, we need to be careful not to undermine the successes we have achieved.
Daniel Kahneman, in his book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ notes: When we observe people acting in ways that seem odd we should first examine the possibility that they have a good reason to do what they do.
Before I castigate those on strike, I need to understand the issues behind it. We all do.