UK worker strike total falls to lowest level since 1893

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May 31 2018 14:23
UK worker strike total falls to lowest level since 1893

So, just came across this shite piece of news: UK worker strike total falls to lowest level since 1893.

Quote:
The number of workers who went on strike in Britain last year fell to the lowest level since the 1890s, when Queen Victoria was on the throne.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show 33,000 workers were involved in labour disputes in 2017, down from 154,000 a year earlier. This is the lowest number since records began in 1893, the year of Britain’s first national coal strikes, when the figure was 634,000.

While the previous record low came in 2015, when 81,000 workers went out on strike, there have only been four other occasions over the past 120 years when fewer than 100,000 employees went on strike.

Is it really as bad as all that? Or is there some statistical massaging going on that I'm missing? Like, I didn't expect the situation to be particularly good but I didn't think it would be the worst on record!

I suppose this is the issue with focusing, as we/I do, on micro-level struggles: you can sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture. For instance, as heartening as all the UVW, IWGB and cinema workers' strikes have been, I suppose they only represent a small number of workers (and all largely London-based). I guess the UCU strike has been the only recent national dispute, and the RMT guards dispute as well to an extent.

Is this the effect of the Trade Union Act? Or something else? And to what extent do people think the disputes mentioned above point towards a way out of this?

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May 31 2018 14:27

I think it gives an impression that's not very accurate. I mean it is accurate if you are just talking about last year but then the article should say something like 'fell but are rising again'. I have seen figures (which I now can't find) saying that due to the UCU strike this year's strike days are already higher than for the last few years and we are not yet in June.

Mike Harman
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May 31 2018 14:40

This is ONS stats for working days lost, it doesn't include 2018.

https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/timeseries/bbfw/lms

Since 1991: 1996, 2002, and 2011 were the most days lost. 2014 wasn't far off.

There's a very sharp drop since the mid '80s, and the lowest equivalent numbers were in the '30s prior to that, but it doesn't really show a clear decline since the early '90s or anything.

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May 31 2018 14:56

Yeah my impressionistic idea is that there was an early/mid nineties strike wave and it's been low since then.
I think regarding IWGB, Picturehouse and similar disputes, they are really good, but tend to involve comparatively small numbers of workers. Picturehouse have had one strike in Brighton but apart from that have all been in London, but they are currently trying to expand out of London (PM me for details). IWGB have cleaners branches at (I think) three universities, they had one branch outside London a while ago which folded, don't know if they have new ones now, there was at least one Deliveroo strike outside London that I know of and there may be others but yes tendency is relatively small numbers and specific locations.
Not a criticism of IWGB or anyone else, that's how things start.

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May 31 2018 15:06

I've looked and looked and I can't find it but it was something like that total strike days for this year have already overtaken 2015, and that was about 6 weeks ago, I've been on strike three days since then.

Mike Harman
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May 31 2018 15:28

2017-18:

2015-18:

Can't stand that the ONS website doesn't let you make linkable graphs, but closest I can get.

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May 31 2018 15:32

Like I understand you get figures year by year but seems to me would be really easy for the newspapers to put in a mention of a really big strike that did get quite a bit of publicity

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May 31 2018 15:38

So according to these graphs we are definitely having the highest number of strikes for at least three years.
Are health workers balloting? That could be a really big dispute, NHS is the biggest employer in the UK afaik.

Strikes in McDonalds and other areas of catering are pretty positive as well.

Mike Harman
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May 31 2018 16:18

One more graph for 2001-2018, this is using quarterly divisions.

To me at least, looks like a notable decline post 2008 in the base level of strike days, but 2011 and 2014 are top-4 spikes.

If there really is a post-2008 lull (with major exceptions) then it's hard not to see it as a post-crash thing and that makes me wonder about the very low strike days in the '30s compared to either the '20s or post-war.

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May 31 2018 18:51
fingers malone wrote:
So according to these graphs we are definitely having the highest number of strikes for at least three years.
Are health workers balloting? That could be a really big dispute, NHS is the biggest employer in the UK afaik.

That got called off last I heard (source: I work with someone whose partner works in the NHS and sometimes mentions it - yep, looks like the national dispute's off, still some local disputes like Wigan tho)

Quote:
Strikes in McDonalds and other areas of catering are pretty positive as well.

Yeah, the McDonald's strike is great symbolically, but absolutely tiny numbers of workers involved atm - don't want to join in with the right-wing media/McDonald's press releases by dismissing it on those grounds, but the number of workers working a shift at one or two locations isn't going to make much of a dent in the ONS figures. The TGI Friday's dispute feels slightly more like a "real" strike, but Unite are really shit at getting information out about what's going on - just looked it up on their site, and they do finally have something up about it (the day before the strike!) but it's very much like

Unite wrote:
JOHN MCDONNELL IS GOING TO SAY HELLO

oh also workers at four stores are going to strike for the third Friday in a row.

sawa
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May 31 2018 20:35

Is last year as said in op at least not mainly due to the trade union act coming into force March 2017. And requiring a 50% minimum meaning less strikes but more for longer?

Presumably there may be industrial action in a couple of councils in Scotland in the near future too though I suppose not massive numbers too.

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May 31 2018 23:52
R Totale wrote:
fingers malone wrote:
Strikes in McDonalds and other areas of catering are pretty positive as well.

Yeah, the McDonald's strike is great symbolically, but absolutely tiny numbers of workers involved atm

Yeah fair point, I suppose I just was pleased to see any strike action at all in catering, and especially in McDonalds.
Feels a bit difficult to talk about these kind of disputes, don't want to be 'RAHRAHRAH' with no perspective at all, don't want to be negative and dismissive about strikes that people are working really hard to organise.

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Jun 1 2018 06:22

Oh yeah, I totally know what you mean. The fact that, even with such small numbers taking part, they still won the biggest pay rise in ten years is definitely impressive.

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Jun 4 2018 08:12

TBH....after reading all those comments, I think it is depressing that ONE STRIKE by one trade union (UCU) could massively change the stats for the year.
Like... it doesn't matter if the annual stats would've been good or bad without it, that impact means it was bad overall.

We have the worst income per capita amongst the working class in ages, the worst reliable living accommodation, the worst monetary income, the biggest difference in wealth since queen vicotria.... and somehow, there aren't constant riots. what is wrong with us all? what is wrong with not only our anarchists and our communists and our social democrats and our (bitter taste in my mouth) fucking liberals, but our fucking people in general!?!?!? Is this the 'status quo;?!? Were the hippies right, should we go form our communes in the country??!??!

It doesn't make a difference if you are a CLASS WARRIOR fighting capital and the state or, like me, an INTERSECTIONAL class struggle anarchist... we are loosing on EVERY front of the class war, every fight where there is an oppressed and an opppressor the latter are winning.

I don't know how to change that. I wish I did. Right now I'm just a drunk insomniac on the interent, but i'd toally join your random faction if you had the answer....

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Jun 4 2018 15:09
dark_ether wrote:
TBH....after reading all those comments, I think it is depressing that ONE STRIKE by one trade union (UCU) could massively change the stats for the year.
Like... it doesn't matter if the annual stats would've been good or bad without it, that impact means it was bad overall.

Yeah, in general this is a depressing problem with all strike stats in the UK, especially recently.

Pretty much all recent spikes in industrial action in the UK in the past 15-20 years have been single disputes at large, public sector employers, like postal workers and the occasional one or 2 day local government strike

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Jun 4 2018 17:36

Obv union membership not quite the same thing, but these figures aren't great either. Unless under-30s are just really, really into left communism these days, I guess?

wojtek
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Jun 4 2018 21:31

Forgive me if I'm talking out my piehole [from the bar]. even if millenials & gen z'ers are all full corbyn/unions, i think there are lack of elders to pass down knowledge, maybe therefore a lack of confidence. #16 post reminded me of this:

Quote:
But trying to start a union always suffers this problem, its you have to transcend instrumental reason to start a union, because it’s not rational for the first three people to join. You follow me? The first three, it’s not rational. You have to convince them there is a bigger rationality than theirs at stake. Something that transcends their selfhood, or you haven’t got any union. So if you don’t do that then the total outcome for all the workers is itself irrational. Namely, they are then forced to negotiate against a power greater than themselves at a massive disadvantage rather than to have equals negotiate these things.

http://rickroderick.org/304-marcuse-and-one-dimensional-man-1993/
I've opted to jump ship for now, but i didnt see any evidence of elder Poles who experienced, maybe struggled against Communism reproduce or pass on their knowhow vs. 0hr contracts.

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Jun 4 2018 19:56

That's really well put, thank you.

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Jun 5 2018 00:21
dark_ether wrote:
TBH....after reading all those comments, I think it is depressing that ONE STRIKE by one trade union (UCU) could massively change the stats for the year.
Like... it doesn't matter if the annual stats would've been good or bad without it, that impact means it was bad overall.

We have the worst income per capita amongst the working class in ages, the worst reliable living accommodation, the worst monetary income, the biggest difference in wealth since queen vicotria.... and somehow, there aren't constant riots. what is wrong with us all? what is wrong with not only our anarchists and our communists and our social democrats and our (bitter taste in my mouth) fucking liberals, but our fucking people in general!?!?!? Is this the 'status quo;?!? Were the hippies right, should we go form our communes in the country??!??!

It doesn't make a difference if you are a CLASS WARRIOR fighting capital and the state or, like me, an INTERSECTIONAL class struggle anarchist... we are loosing on EVERY front of the class war, every fight where there is an oppressed and an opppressor the latter are winning.

I don't know how to change that. I wish I did. Right now I'm just a drunk insomniac on the interent, but i'd toally join your random faction if you had the answer....

I relate so hard to the feelings in this post. Our situation really is depressing.

Weirdly, tho, seeing my bleak thoughts mirrored back to me with such vitriol, passion, and fire actually lifted my mood... well, at least a little bit.

What's the reason for the inaction and passivity? (Repression has always been a problem, so it can't be put down to that.)

And what can be done about it?

I know these questions have been asked countless times, and probably a hundred times on these very forums, but hey......

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Jun 5 2018 00:57

Here are my most non-depressing thoughts on the matter...

Despite all my pessimism, I still have hope. I try to remind myself that capitalism is only 300 years old. The first states only came around like 5 or 6 thousands years ago. Seems like a long time, but humanity is 200,000 years old.

These problems are fairly new. And as far as the longevity of species go, humanity is just a baby. I'm sure we will figure our shit eventually. (If we don't all kill ourselves first!)

Even if it takes a thousand years, or more, that's just a blip of time by the measure of our existence. I can imagine humanity existing for millions of years, living lives so beautiful we can hardly imagine.

It's easy to feel powerless, because even when we act, the world stays as fucked up as ever. But one day libertarian-communism will come, and when it does, it will be because of our collective efforts over the generations. All those little things you did in your life that you thought never made a difference, they will be part of what makes it happen. They will echo through eternity.

Ok, hope that wasn't too corny. And if it wasn't, this might do the trick! (From the movie Cloud Atlas...)

Shitty dude: No matter what you do, it will never amount to more than anything but a single drop in a limitless ocean.

Awesome dude: What is an ocean but a multitude of drops?

Mike Harman
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Jun 5 2018 10:20

Union density is definitely orthogonal to strike action (France has much lower density but higher rates of strike action), although there could still be correlation within those different workplace cultures if not between them.

Cross-linking to https://libcom.org/forums/history/decline-fall-picketing-17052018 which had some of the same discussion.

I'm not planning to do this (although you never know), but to take this thread a bit further and maybe towards something that could be written up the following would be interesting to know:

- if we compare against other 'developed' countries, is there the same pre/post 1990 split? The US must have had a spike in strike days due to the teachers strikes this year. What about Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy etc.?

- strikes have gone upwards in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh in the same period, does this represent to some extent the geographical relocation of strike-prone industries in the past 30+ years (cars, textiles)? Spatial fix etc. (although I haven't actually read the Beverly Silver book).

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Jun 5 2018 14:53
Mike Harman wrote:
Union density is definitely orthogonal to strike action (France has much lower density but higher rates of strike action), although there could still be correlation within those different workplace cultures if not between them.

yeah also it's worth bearing in mind that strikes aren't always indicators of working class strength either. For example in the 1960s, many workers in the UK won many improvements just by threatening to strike. Whereas in the 1980s there were loads of strikes, but many of them ended in defeat.

Lucky Black Cat, good post. Don't know if you have seen it but pretty much that exact same sentiment led me to write this little while ago: https://libcom.org/blog/10-reasons-communism-will-win-15072013

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Jun 5 2018 17:18
Lucky Black Cat wrote:
Even if it takes a thousand years, or more, that's just a blip of time by the measure of our existence. I can imagine humanity existing for millions of years, living lives so beautiful we can hardly imagine.

It's easy to feel powerless, because even when we act, the world stays as fucked up as ever. But one day libertarian-communism will come, and when it does, it will be because of our collective efforts over the generations. All those little things you did in your life that you thought never made a difference, they will be part of what makes it happen. They will echo through eternity.

Ok, hope that wasn't too corny. And if it wasn't, this might do the trick! (From the movie Cloud Atlas...)

Shitty dude: No matter what you do, it will never amount to more than anything but a single drop in a limitless ocean.

Awesome dude: What is an ocean but a multitude of drops?

Think I've mentioned it before, but the Conflictual Wisdom zine is worth checking out for anyone needing further inspiration along these lines. Taster article here:

Quote:
We may or may not live to experience anarchy on a scale greater than our hard-won friendships, love affairs, projects, and uprisings. But in the meantime, the vision of that possibility can anchor and orient us in the present, informing our actions, the way a mariner navigates across the sea by the stars. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, when we are able to imagine a utopia, that utopia can gain traction on reality by enabling us to take actions we would otherwise not be capable of. The reality content of a future utopia is determined by the actions it enables us to take today.

In this regard, my ability to believe in the possibility of change—not as something to occur in the future, but as something I can pursue right now—is a fundamental part of my power to live fully, to maintain a healthy relationship to my own agency.

sawa
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Jun 7 2018 21:58

What are folk counting as small scale for some of these disputes?

Also third union voted in favour of 4 day strike action at the end of the month
In East Dunbartonshire Council in Scotland. Though again not large amounts of workers.

Is less about conditions decided nationally or centrally than in the past?

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Jun 7 2018 22:04

Compare with 29.5 million days lost through strikes in 1979. Then we've got a long way to go.

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Jun 9 2018 22:18
Steven. wrote:

Lucky Black Cat, good post. Don't know if you have seen it but pretty much that exact same sentiment led me to write this little while ago: https://libcom.org/blog/10-reasons-communism-will-win-15072013

Ah yes! I remember reading this back in the day, and loving it. I forgot that you made that point. It's been an integral part of my thinking for years now... I wonder if your article is the origin, and I'd just forgotten? If that's true, you're responsible for giving me a perspective that has been very important in keeping me optimistic! grin

I also put this same message in a birthday card to my friend last month, and she said it made her tear up. So... the hope is spreading.

R Totale wrote:
Think I've mentioned it before, but the Conflictual Wisdom zine is worth checking out for anyone needing further inspiration along these lines. Taster article here:
Quote:
We may or may not live to experience anarchy on a scale greater than our hard-won friendships, love affairs, projects, and uprisings. But in the meantime, the vision of that possibility can anchor and orient us in the present, informing our actions, the way a mariner navigates across the sea by the stars. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, when we are able to imagine a utopia, that utopia can gain traction on reality by enabling us to take actions we would otherwise not be capable of. The reality content of a future utopia is determined by the actions it enables us to take today.

In this regard, my ability to believe in the possibility of change—not as something to occur in the future, but as something I can pursue right now—is a fundamental part of my power to live fully, to maintain a healthy relationship to my own agency.

That's some beautiful, inspiring stuff there, R Totale... gave me a bit of a chill.

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Jun 9 2018 22:18
Mike Harman wrote:
- strikes have gone upwards in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh in the same period, does this represent to some extent the geographical relocation of strike-prone industries in the past 30+ years (cars, textiles)? Spatial fix etc. (although I haven't actually read the Beverly Silver book).

Good point. It's comforting to remember that class struggle is still hot in other parts of the world.

What worries me, though:
Like you say, some industries do seem more strike prone than others. Automation is gradually replacing human labor in these industries... what will we do then?

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Jun 10 2018 07:54
Lucky Black Cat wrote:
What worries me, though:
Like you say, some industries do seem more strike prone than others. Automation is gradually replacing human labor in these industries... what will we do then?

On that, I'd say this is worth reading: http://libcom.org/blog/soldering-report-working-3d-printer-manufacturing-plant-london-24032017

It's very long, but worth it when you have the time for a proper detailed look at how some automation/technology stuff plays out in practice:

"The current public debate about automation is a highly politicised one. The prospect of having your takeaway sushi dropped onto your roof terrace by a drone or to 3D print a custom made hip-bone is celebrated by the metropolitan professional class. At the same time they see a looming apocalyptic side of automation: the uneducated working class feels increasingly threatened by their robotic competitors and will therefore lose all liberal attitudes that ties them to the progressive world. Workers voted for Trump and other populists because of their fear that they can't keep up with an ever faster, changing world.

The radical left is not very helpful when it comes to critically assessing the current discourse around automation from a working class perspective. Many comrades don’t question the hype. They believe that automation will kill off most manual jobs within the next decade or so. Based on this rather unfounded assumption, they are then forced to instinctively choose between two different camps: an affirmative camp (accelerationism, full communism: the robots will free us from work and we can live in luxury on dole money) or a nihilistic one (surplus population, external insurrection: everyone will be unemployed, angry and smash everything). But in order to be able to demystify the seemingly 'automatic' power of capital, working class analysis of current changes in technology will have to start from the bottom up. We hope that this article can contribute to this effort."

Their Amazon report also had a bit of stuff about the limits to what automation can do:

"When the media reported about the new Amazon warehouse in Tilbury I showed it to my closest colleagues. Apart from the awful working conditions the article also mentioned the issue of the use of robots. According to the report robots were doing the picking process. My colleagues and I talked about how a robot would not be able to do the picking as humans do. The workers in Hemel Hempstead have to pick in what they call a “bin”, which is where the item to pick is placed by the stowers. Only a few bins contain single items, most of them store multiple items. Some items are very small, like SD cards, key chains / key rings, watch straps, decoration stickers, postcards, make-up etc.. These are usually mixed with bigger items like pet food, kitchen / toilet utilities like bleach, toys, electric utilities etc.. Often smaller items are hidden behind or under those bigger items. We have been told that when we don’t find the items in the “bin” we have to scan every single item inside and only after having done this can we log into the scanner that we couldn’t find the item. My colleagues and me thought that a robot would have difficulties doing that: dealing with multiple items, putting bigger items on the floor, having some totes with 40 items etc.. Or they would get in trouble with their human co-pickers: one of my colleagues said that if we would work alongside robots he would pour some water on the machine in order to spoil it!"

Having said that, while I was looking up those two, the suggested article thing also reminded me of Swoosh, which is again very long but very good - it's kind of the viewpoint AWW describe as "everyone will be unemployed, angry and smash everything", but it's the best statement of that view I've seen.

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Jun 11 2018 06:38

Thanks for sharing that, R Totale. I read the quotes and hopefully will find time for the rest of it.

Just on this point:

Quote:
They believe that automation will kill off most manual jobs within the next decade or so.

I don't want to exaggerate how quickly this will happen. It might take a long time, but that it will eventually happen seems inevitable.

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Jun 11 2018 10:55
MH wrote:
strikes have gone upwards in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh in the same period, does this represent to some extent the geographical relocation of strike-prone industries in the past 30+ years (cars, textiles)? Spatial fix etc.

Yes - but strikes have been in apparent drastic decline in Bangladesh in the past few years. The media face state repression so they report few strikes now, but the general repression is also directed against worker militancy - and reforms in working conditions have probably aided bosses & police surveillance; eg, increased registration of workers aids intelligence monitoring, increased union representation reduces spontaneous wildcat action etc.

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Jun 12 2018 17:33
Lucky Black Cat wrote:
Steven. wrote:

Lucky Black Cat, good post. Don't know if you have seen it but pretty much that exact same sentiment led me to write this little while ago: https://libcom.org/blog/10-reasons-communism-will-win-15072013

Ah yes! I remember reading this back in the day, and loving it. I forgot that you made that point. It's been an integral part of my thinking for years now... I wonder if your article is the origin, and I'd just forgotten? If that's true, you're responsible for giving me a perspective that has been very important in keeping me optimistic! grin

I also put this same message in a birthday card to my friend last month, and she said it made her tear up. So... the hope is spreading.

ah well maybe, either way that's really cool, thanks for letting me know