Friday 2 December 2011

Do 'strikes' ever achieve their aim?

Everyone has the democratic right to withhold their labour, and that right should NEVER be taken away. But after last Wednesday's pointless UK strike, one has to ask questions.

The only 'proper' strike that I've followed closely was the 1984-1985 UK Miners Strike, the result of which was devastating. Here is a précis of the events.

On the 6th March 1984, the UK's 'National Coal Board' announced to the government that it wished to close 20 uneconomic coal mines. An enquiry was held, and the go-ahead was given for the closure of 13. As a result, the leader of the National Miners Union, Arthur Scargill, called his men out on strike and it soon developed into a violent national disaster that not only saw the deaths of 6 men, but also heralded the demise of the Coal Industry and the once powerful UK Trades Unions.

In 1983 (prior to the strike) there had been 174 working coal mines in the UK; the majority of which were viable. Today there are JUST 6. But not only did the strike destroy Britain's coal industry, it also had a devastating effect on engineering, the railways, electricity production, and steel production, all of which were inextricably linked to the coal industry. Traditional 'metal bashing' in The Midlands has now all but disappeared.

Certain mining communities have never recovered, and many families that were divided over the strike will never be reunited. The strike achieved nothing but unemployment, the coalfields were devastated, and those ever-eager Union leaders are now all living on fat pensions.

The miners themselves obviously had genuine concerns, but they could never have foreseen the disastrous results of their politically led strike action.

One really wonders how many strikes have ever achieved their desired effect. One could ask Britain's dockers and shipbuilders that same question.


  1. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm you have a very strong point, look at us with Quantas recently..lies,lies and more lies...not even an Aussie running it anymore the boss of Quantas is Irish,another point that most not all but most Aussie union bosses are either Irish or Scottish....its a wierd old world...and I do not think strikes do too much except keep the family hungry and I believe that all the decisions are already made before the workers even get a chance to revolt...

  2. Even if a demonstration seems to have no effect on the disastrous decisions of others, you just cannot sit back quietly and let them get away with it without any sort of condemnation at all. You may be shouting into the wind, but at least it will be down on record that you objected to it. When Thatcher began the process of dismantling Britain's ability to manufacture anything worth exporting for the sake of the 'wealth creators', the miners got beaten up like they were shot at by Churchill a generation before. Now that the coal and steel industries have been handed over to India and Spain, at least the bastards can't say "Don't blame us - you did not object at the time".

  3. The 'making one's voice heard' is, of course, the important bit; but at what cost. That's the point of my question, and I'm really not sure of the answer.

  4. The cost of 'votes for women' was - personally - quite high, as was the anti-apartheid demonstrations and the 'Arab Spring' movements, which are still to reach a final outcome. If they fail, was it a price not worth paying?

  5. And the tories are back in power and have resumed the dismantling of the UK's manufacturing industry from where they left off.

    We can't even make our our locomotives any more, you know, the things we invented from the start and successfully exported all over the world.

    Strikes and the conservative party are like peaches and cream...

  6. Having personally lived through a five month industrial strike in 2005, I'd say we achieved nothing, except lost time and pay. When the economy took a nose dive, we were the first site that took the hit, losing 200+ jobs, while several of the less efficient sites are still purring along.

    The upside for me was that I went back during the strike and completed my teaching degree, and now there are days that I actually feel I might be making a difference in someone's life in some small way.

  7. I have mixed feelings about unions and strikes. My father was a steelworker, and his union went on strike an inordinate number of times when I was a kid. They won an unheard of thirteen weeks of vacation time, pay raises out the wazoo, and great benefits, but in the end, the company went bankrupt, and the union members were left with neither jobs nor benefits.

  8. A true dilemma Cro. I agree with Tom in as much that voicing objection is imperative, but also with you when you what price.
    I listened to Richard Branson in an interview on NPR yesterday, speaking/plugging his new book Screw Business As Usual. When asked by a young entrepreneur who wants only to source materials that are fair trade what she should do when all her competition is buying child-slave-labour products from China; he replied basically that starving for one's ideals is counterproductive. Compromise is the only answer?

  9. Jacqueline. Yet another of life's very tricky quandaries. Sadly the truth is that if it was only oneself who starved, that might be OK, but when there are any number of others who rely on the solvency of the business... that's another question.

    I think Tom is right when he talks of women's votes, anti-apartheid, and the Arab uprisings. Demonstrations are always more effective than strikes.

  10. Veering off on a tangent perhaps, but focussing on “buying child-slave-labour products from China.” We may take the moral high ground in the West and dictate who or who should not make the products we happily buy cheap, demand that child labour cease but never consider the cost of our action.

    Regrettably real poverty dictates that many children have to work for them and their family to survive. Denying them this opportunity (?) literally takes the food from their mouth. Sad but true.

    Anna :o]

  11. I have the same question for USA unions...why did so many industries outsource to other countries...the unions, who wanted more and more $$$$$$$$$$s for the employees and have now left us with limited opportunities for the blue collar worker!

  12. addendum: for the employees and thus themselves


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