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TO THE POINT
160107 Strikes by private and public sector
  • The context. For Tuesday’s To The Point post, I looked at the history of industrial action in the UK. Turns out, there’s not nearly so much of it nowadays as there was in the 1970s and 1980s. For today’s To The Point post, I’m looking at what has happened since 2010, but that wider context oughtn’t be forgotten. The strikes of the Cameron years aren’t too dissimilar, in quantity at least, from the strikes of the Blair years, and they’re nothing like the strikes of the Thatcher years. The unions no longer bring this country to a standstill.
  • Strikes outside the public sector... A comment on my original post inspired today’s. “Outside the public sector,” wrote David_MacD, “strikes just don’t happen or, more accurately, are very rare indeed.” I don’t mean to “um, actually” one of our own readers, but David is only right in part. That part? As the lighter-coloured lines of the graph show, the number of working days lost to stoppages is far greater in the public sector than in the private sector; ten times greater in 2014, in fact. But, as the darker columns show, the actual number of stoppages is now greater in the private sector than in the public sector.
  • …they’re smaller… The first half of this division is easy to explain. The number of days lost to public sector strikes is greater, despite them being fewer in quantity, because those strikes tend to last longer and involve more people. As the Office for National Statistics puts it in its annual account of labour disputes, “[this is] a reflection of the large scale strikes that occurred in this sector”.
  • …but, nowadays, greater in number. The second half is trickier. The number of stoppages in the private sector actually surpassed those in the public sector recently, during the Coalition years. In 2011, 59 per cent of stoppages were from the public sector, with 41 per cent from the private sector. By 2014, this had switched around almost completely: 44 per cent were from the public sector, with 56 per cent from the private sector. What explains the change? Perhaps it’s that there are now so many more private sector workers. Perhaps it’s that public sector workers have taken themselves and their grievances across to the private sector. Perhaps it’s disgruntlement at the quality of jobs of offer. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
  • The lesson. Whatever the case, the rising quantity of strikes in the private sector is almost counterintuitive. George Osborne has seen the economy return to growth, he’s cut taxes to encourage employment, and now he’s introducing a National Living Wage – yet still, of course, there’s unhappiness. Let it remind him never to be complacent.

15 comments for: How the private sector goes on strike more and less than the public sector

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