by Philip Cunliffe
Thursday, 19
January 2023
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16:00

Strikers are a welcome change from Just Stop Oil

Protest has been wrestled back from the middle classes
by Philip Cunliffe
Healthcare workers take part in a NHS Solidarity March on 18 January 2023. Credit: Getty.

As a new round of strikes roils Britain, we should not let our responses to the varied campaigns of industrial action be dictated by the frustrations of inconvenience. Unlike the gripes of put-out Remainers about the likes of joining the non-EU queue at the airport, the strikes are responses to genuine and long-simmering grievances. 

Far from marking social disintegration, some of the strikes — notably those of health workers — are in response to a government whose own policies over lockdown collapsed public services more effectively than any truculent union leader of tabloid imagination could ever hope to.


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The strikers also stand in pointed contrast to the larks of the Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion protestors, whose antics have dominated so much of protest coverage in the UK for the last few years. For a start, the unions are themselves representative civil society organisations, with a due-paying mass membership, elected officials and internal deliberation. They also represent people with jobs that actually matter — which is why the withdrawal of their labour matters to the rest of us, too.

In this, they are significantly different from the self-appointed middle-class activists vandalising art works, sitting in front of traffic or gluing themselves to train doors. There is, of course, a time and a place for civil disobedience and direct action in any society that values civil liberty and the right to protest.

But what is so noticeable about the actions of recent eco-protestors are their over-inflated claims, themselves an ideological legacy of a globalism in which all politics had to be cast on the cosmic scale of saving humanity and the planet, rather than the more mundane and immediate interests of ordinary mortals.

Whatever the merits of the industrial action by various unions, their current campaigns are explicitly based on material interests — wages and working conditions — rather than vacuous virtue-signalling. Focused as they are in public or public-adjacent sectors, the unions’ actions also put them in direct conflict with Government. Again, this in contrast to so many of the eco-protestors, whose demands are simply more radical versions of policies that the British state is itself already committed to – Net Zero is an explicit target of British government policy.

That we are seeing a return to genuine social contention on the basis of material interests is a vast improvement to British public life, after a decades-long era in which all protest politics has been dominated by middle-class concerns — over university fees, the NIMBYism concerning the third runway at Heathrow and, of course, the vast marches in favour of stopping Brexit. The unseriousness of these protests was evident in how demonstrators often self-consciously adopted the mode of carnival with ridiculous costumes and ironic, self-deprecating slogans.

Contrast this with the images of the recent pickets. Let us hope that at least one benefit of this new wave of strikes will be to squeeze out and overshadow the antics of virtue-signalling middle classes.

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Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
16 days ago

Pay demands follow inflation as surely as night follows day.
Where were the unions when governments were locking down? Where was their pushback then?
They only wanted more of it.

Last edited 16 days ago by Brendan O'Leary
Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
16 days ago

So doctors aren’t middle class, then?
The unions taking action, with the exception of RMT and the postal workers, are overwhelmingly middle class or, like the train drivers, earn middle class wages. Why aren’t unions recruiting care workers and those who work in distribution centres and pulling them out on strike? They are the people who really need a pay rise. Probably because union hierarchies are too busy forcing women to accept men in frocks in workplace lavatories and hospital wards.
It is interesting that the Labour leadership has voiced its opposition to the railway and postal strikes, but has said nothing about those being held by doctors, teachers, university lecturers and civil servants. This is the group that used Covid to force lockdowns and destroy the economy, it is the group that still mourns for the EU, and the group that supports green ideology and UBI over jobs for the working class.
Not much taking back power there. They had it all along!

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
16 days ago

“Whatever the merits of the industrial action by various unions, their current campaigns are explicitly based on material interests.”
I have no objection to unions promoting the interests of their members. That’s what they’re for. What I do object to is their disingenuous claims that they’re doing it for our benefit.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
15 days ago

Striking working classes – do you know how much train drivers, emergency workers, nurses, civil servants and teachers make? This ain’t poverty stricken working classes – typical salaries of at least £30k plus, well above the national average wage.

These are left wing inspired and organised strikes merely directed at getting rid of the Tories. Ironically their actions will create a backlash against Labour. Idiots.

Alex Colchester
Alex Colchester
14 days ago

As a degenerate rentier society we worship house-price-gains and record-company-profits yet can’t stand the idea of real workers earning wages that keep up with the real rate of inflation. Perhaps it’s because the rentier class can’t get at this cash?

Dog Eared
Dog Eared
17 days ago

Whatever the merits of the industrial action by various unions, their current campaigns are explicitly based on material interests

Or in other words, greed. I’m uncertain about the cheery nature of this piece, the current wave of strikes are cynical and dispicable at a time of national pressures, particularly the trains.
I don’t agree with the tactics of Just Stop Oil, but their approach has to be completely different from a picket line, comparing the two seems absurd. They also have a valid motive, dismissing it as virtue signalling demonstrates an inadequate understanding of the issues.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
17 days ago
Reply to  Dog Eared

I know many people in healthcare, particularly nurses, and the amount of work they put in compared to how little they get paid is almost criminal. It is not just about the money either, it is about the way they are treated as dispensable units by a bloated management layer that pays itself too much.
In contrast, Just Stop Oil have made no friends among the working class who have had to witness pampered rich kids block traffic and glue themselves to valuable cultural artifacts

Dog Eared
Dog Eared
17 days ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Certainly you have two examples there that are both highly emotive but at the opposite ends of the spectrum. We all like nurses and want to be proud of their conditions, yet, I don’t agree with their actions and tbh, when including their whole package and benefits, it’s really not that bad, and everyone who works will gripe about how much work they have to do for the pay, so they are no different. I don’t agree with JSO actions either, they are ridiculous and have done more damage to their own cause than they could possibly realise. I do however sympathise with their motive.