Friday, 1 July 2011

Why yesterdays strikes were more successful than most

I would usually start this kind of entry by saying "People aren't stupid", unfortunately a year's worth of politics where people have been given the opportunity to prove it has actually proven opposite. Instead I will say people are selfish, and very prone to putting things in to their own frame of "would I win or lose if it happened in my situation" versus "does them getting what they want detriment me also?".

It's for this reason why I feel that yesterdays strikes were successful, unlike strikes by other parts of the public workforce that have happened periodically through the past.

Past strikes have never tended to breach past the "selfish" barrier. Calls to get an even bigger pay rise than they're getting just don't go down well, regardless of how justified they are. Yesterdays calls were not that simple though. While publicly about the pensions public workers get, those that listened to supporters of the strike through the day would have got the message that pensions were already reformed to not cause a strain on the tax payer, and that further reforms are just a pay cut.

Here it's where people put their own selfish frame of reference to the test...and see no reason to be petulant. It's not going to actually cost them any more (or less, taxes aren't going to be reduced because of any further reforms), and they can equate it to their own job. "Would I be happy with my boss taking away some of my pay but not giving me anything in return?"

Overall the framing of yesterdays strikes, clumsily handled into a failure by those that spoke against them (Check out the Today show on Radio4, which led to this factcheck, among others, about affordability of public sector pensions), meant that no-one could see any detriment to themselves, and therefore were free to feel empathy for the situation those workers find themselves in.

And for that reason I think those unions that took part were very much right to go ahead, despite negotiations still ongoing. It's all well and good to claim that you should wait until negotiations have finished, but that assumes that both parties are going in to the boardroom on an equal footing, and that those holding the purse strings intend to be objectively fair. Leaving a strike until after the negotiations stall only leads to the striking side being painted as wanting too much out of the deal, of being unreasonable in negotiation.

By striking now it has been nothing more than a protest, a statement that this avenue is not one that public sector workers are going to accept without a big fight. Sometimes that is necessary to make the balance of power more even in that negotiation room. And when you have a subject like this, it isn't hard for the public to find themselves on your side either, so why not take that opportunity and get that message out while you can?