Going French: UK Strikefests 2010/2011

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 1/03/2010 11:46:00 AM
This is just a quick update on the labour militancy front. Awhile ago, I mentioned how the Royal Mail postal workers' strikes were roiling the UK. While a temporary truce was reached over the holiday season--an act of self-preservation, methinks--matters remain unresolved. As before, government's point man will be none other than Lord Mandelson AKA The Man Who Now Runs Britain. Interestingly, Mandelson's bio includes a stint as an economist at the Trades Union Congress whose building I usually pass en route to work Meanwhile, the Guardian now reports that any number of public sector unions are contemplating strike actions going into 2010. Interestingly, it is predicted that these actions will escalate towards 2011 when stimulus supports are removed (and a Conservative government likely retakes the reins of power).

It's all very French. Union membership in the UK is down overall alike in France. However, the increasing preponderance of striking public sector workers (who are more likely to be unionized) gives the rest of the world the impression that both countries are bastions of labour unrest:
Britain is ushering in the new year with the threat of widespread unrest as civil servants, tube drivers and rail workers are poised to ballot on strike action. After a year of factory occupations, indefinite walkouts, postal misery and the debacle of the strike ballot by 12,000 British Airways cabin crew, there is a sense of heightening industrial militancy.

Now, relations between unions and management look likely to be further tested. The Public and Commercial Services union is set to ballot its 270,000 members this month, threatening disruption at jobcentres, revenue and customs, immigration, the coastguard and other bodies in a dispute over redundancy terms...

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport workers is threatening to ballot 10,000 London Underground workers over pay. It is also locked in dispute with Network Rail over the future of 1,500 track maintenance jobs. The union has ordered a ballot in the new year for industrial action over compulsory redundancies...

Meanwhile, 121,000 postal workers, who called off Christmas walkouts but whose strike mandate remains live, are continuing talks with Royal Mail over modernisation plans. As the year progresses, however, experts predict it will be the public sector that bears the jobs brunt.

"We ain't seen nothing yet in terms of the depth of public spending savings that need to be achieved," said John Cridland, deputy director-general of the CBI [Confederation of British Industry]. "I think the period of maximum pain, in terms of public spending reduction, is still some way off. If there was a change in government, then changes in public spending are not going to happen immediately. And the current government is clearly nailing its flag to the mast of not cutting in a way that would put recovery at risk. So the moment of maximum peril probably isn't 2010. It is rather more 2011. I think we'll see the biggest challenges with industrial relations at the point when public sector jobs are challenged..."

Winter of Discontent comparisons, likening the wave of militancy to that of the late 70s and early 80s, are not an appropriate analogy, according to Ed Sweeney, chairman of the conciliation service Acas. Union membership stands at about 7m, half that of the 1980s, though three-fifths of public sector jobs are unionised. Manufacturing has declined, and with it union muscle. Indeed, Acas saw a small decrease last year in the number of disputes. But the size of disputes and the numbers involved, has increased. Acas sees the public sector as the likely flashpoint. "We are getting ready for … potential for job losses, pay freezes and the impact that has on the temperature of employer/employee relations," said Sweeney.
Unfortunately for the likes of yours truly, it's just like the bad old days. I'll be bicycling to work at this rate.