We’ve already covered the lack of legitimacy of today’s co-ordinated strikes, resting as they do on a mix of old ballots and low turnouts. Union leaders try to pretend these facts don’t matter, implying without evidence that public sector workers somehow still support the action despite the fact the NUT hasn’t asked its members for two years, and the majority of trade unionists didn’t vote at all when balloted.
The proof of the pudding is, as they say, in the eating, though. Did the supposed silent majority make their view known today? Well, yes they did – and it wasn’t a supportive view of the strike action.
Figures from the Cabinet Office show the militant leaders have staggeringly little support at grassroots level. Here are some extracts from the release:
- “Support for the strike has been poor, with turnout down compared to previous occasions. We expect the total turnout to be less than half a million, well short of the numbers claimed by the Unions.”
- “Civil Service turnout likely to be fewer than 80,000 – just 18% of the workforce. We believe this to be the lowest number ever for a national strike.”
So much for the claims of “millions” going on strike. To put the small scale of the civil service turnout in context, Whitehall loses just over 3 million days a year to sickness – 80,000 is a truly meagre turnout.
Here are some other signs of a damp squib:
- Every Job Centre opened successfully (despite union attempts to withdraw the service from the unemployed)
- 21 per cent of schools closed, a third of the number a similar strike closed in 2011
- 80 per cent of driving tests took place without disruption
All of this points to a fundamental problem for those on the Left who automatically interpret union membership figures as a sign of support for their disruptive, partisan agenda. The fact is that a remarkably low proportion of trade unionists chose to strike today – and public services are far better able to continue without them than in the past. As I’ve written before, most people don’t join unions to strike, they join them for moderate, pragmatic reasons.
The union leaders’ short term response to this disconnect with their own grassroots has been to try to ignore it. After all, if their members were ravening for walkouts, why are the unions so reluctant to ballot them?
The popularity of left wing militancy and the power of its main tactic are on the wane – and ignoring it cannot hold back the tide forever. Despite the rhetoric about years of the “ConDem” government, mounting anger etc etc, today’s strike was far less effective than those early in the parliament.
One wonders how long the union bosses can hold on to control and sustain their claims of mass political support while, outside their bunkers, their own members are going to work rather than standing on the picket lines.