Sociological Perspectives on the December Strikes…

1.3 million workers are making just demands for better pay and conditions, but the neoliberal government is against them

Over one million workers across numerous sectors are going on Strike from December 2022 and into 2023.

Their main demands of the strikers are for better working conditions to make public services better and safer for everyone who uses them, and also for fairer pay to enable them to afford their basic human needs.

Who is going on strike?

There are workers going on strike from several unions in December 2022- January 2023

  • The Teacher’s union
  • The nurses union
  • ambulance workers
  • The RMT
  • buses
  • highway workers
  • Postal Workers
  • Boarder Force/ Driving InstructorS
  • University staff.

Is this a general strike?

No. A general strike is when industrial action is co-ordinated across several unions in solidarity. At the moment, while many individual unions are striking they are no co-ordinating these strikes.

Why are workers going on strike…?

The main reason for striking is that ordinary hard working public sector workers want to receive fair pay for the services they provide, and by ‘fair’ we mean a wage that is at least sufficient to pay for housing, food, utilities, transport and other basic needs rather than nurses having to go into debt and/ or rely on food banks to survive.

Real term pay has decreased by 20% since 2010 because of a decade of below inflation public sector pay rises as part of the Tory’s ongoing austerity policies.

But these strikes aren’t just about wages for the workers, they are also about working conditions and the wages being sufficient to attract enough workers to fill vacancies so that current workers aren’t overstretched. For example there are currently 47 000 unfilled nursing roles in the NHS – the pay isn’t enough to attract people into those roles, but current workers have to do overtime to cover those roles or just ‘work harder’.

The RCN says thousands of “burned out, underpaid nursing staff” have left the profession in the past 12 months.

And the fact that organisations like the NHS are understaffed means working conditions aren’t safe, THAT’s a pretty decent to strike for better conditions – these people actually care about the quality of work they provide and they can’t provide quality if they are stretched beyond capacity due to the wages being so low one in six vacancies are empty!

The longer term context of these strikes is twelve years of austerity politics from the Tories – most public sector workers have suffered a real terms pay cut (when factoring in inflation) of 20% since 2010, meaning they are a lot poorer now than they were twelve years ago. So basically, blame the Tories.

Public sector pay hans’t kept pace with private sector pay, so fairness is also about helping public sector workers catch up

Think about the kind of of people who are striking here too – nurses and teachers – these people go into a vocation, many of them dedicate their lives to it and they genuinely want to make YOUR LIFE and your children’s lives better – just pay them!

Then of course there is the Pandemic – it wasn’t so long ago that especially nurses, but also teachers were in the front-line of keeping the country going during Lockdowns, with nurses exposing themselves to Covid-19, some literally dying or seeing colleagues die as a result and now we can’t even give them a pay-rise in line with inflation.

How many people support the strikes?

It depends on who is striking.

60% of the public would support nurses striking, and a majority supports fire fighters, supermarket workers and doctors, with 50% supporting teachers.

However, people are very much against barristers, civil servants, university staff and train drivers going on strike!

People also support the nurses strike

Arguments against striking

The government says it can’t afford to pay workers because it’s broke but it found enough money recently to pay pensioners 10% more – and that’s ALL pensioners, even the rich ones.

But NB – the Tories may say they now don’t have enough money, but consider the fact that Liz Trus’ mini-budget wiped £30 billion off the economy – there’s your pay-deal for all public sector workers right there!

So there may not be enough money but that’s because a combination of sheer incompetence and choosing to fund pensions over workers.

Media bias against strike action

If you can be bothered to wait for the advertising-slowed sluggish right-wing biased fest that is the Daily Mail online to load up you will immediately see the usual anti-social justice vitriol against the strikes.

Besides referring to Mick Lynch as ‘Grinch Lynch’ the other dead giveaway is immediately focussing on how the strikes will inconvenience you – clearly to the Daily Mail it’s more important that wealthy people get their Christmas cards delivered on time rather than the ordinary hardworking mail workers who deliver them receive decent pay and conditions for their service.

Applying Sociology to the strikes

This strike action is a fantastic example of how four decades of neoliberal economic policy have failed ordinary hard working people. If policy had been more about reinvesting back into public services, part of which would have meant pay rises in line with inflation, these socially just strikes would not be necessary.

The government’s reaction in not agreeing to the 1.3 million strikers’ totally reasonable requests also reminds us of the continued relevance of Marxism – with a political elite who recently tanked the economy with their fickle min-budget now refusing to enact a social policy which benefits ordinary hard working people.

Sources

The Daily Mirror (November 2022): Why are Nurses Striking?

BBC: Rishi Sunak working on ‘tough new strike laws‘.

The Guardian – Strike Statistics

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