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Strikes set to escalate in the run-up to Christmas

Striking postal workers outside the Royal Mail Islington Delivery Office in north London (Lucas Cumiskey/PA)
Striking postal workers outside the Royal Mail Islington Delivery Office in north London (Lucas Cumiskey/PA)

The wave of industrial action across the country is set to escalate in the coming weeks as more workers walk out in disputes over pay, jobs and conditions.

– Will there be an increased number of strikes in the run-up to Christmas?
Yes. Members of the Royal College of Nursing will strike on Thursday, December 15, the first national stoppage in the union’s 106 year history, while action will also be held by several other groups of workers.

– Which other sectors will be affected by strikes before the end of the year?
Eurostar security guards, Highways Agency staff,  driving examiners and Rural Payments Agency employees will stop work in the coming weeks.

– Will there be more rail strikes?

Yes. Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union at Network Rail and 14 train operators will stage two 48-hour strikes on December 13/14 and 16/17 which will cripple services. The Transport Salaried Staffs Association and Unite is also planning industrial action among its members on the railways.

– Will there be more Royal Mail strikes?
Yes. Members of the Communication Workers Union are embroiled in an increasingly bitter dispute and will stage a series of strikes in the run up to Christmas. The company is urging people to post Christmas cards early.

– Will there be any co-ordination of strikes?
Officials from unions involved in the raft of industrial disputes are discussing the possibility of co-ordinating strikes, although it is unlikely that this will happen until the new year.

Royal Mail strike
There will be an increase in the number of strikes in the run up to Christmas (Jacob king/PA)

– Does all the industrial action mean the country is witnessing a general strike?
No, although it may feel as though more people are striking than working. A general strike would have to be called by an organisation such as the TUC, but this isn’t going to happen.

– Why not?
Because of employment law, different balloting arrangements and timetables for votes, it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to arrange for a legal walkout by every union.

– When was the last time the UK was witnessing such industrial unrest?
Commentators often describe the current situation as a Winter of Discontent – but that phrase is outdated. It’s true there seems to be almost as many workers on strike now than back in 1979/80, but the world of work is hugely different. Union members could meet in a car park, vote for strikes, and immediately walk out. Now they have to be balloted, a threshold has to be met, and two weeks notice given before action can start.

– Is there any sign that support from union members for strikes is waning?
No. Unions have to reballot their members every six months, and every time one has been held in recent weeks they have shown overwhelming support for continuing with action.

– Do the public support strikes?
Up to now there has been strong support for strikes, even among railway passengers whose journeys are being disrupted. Unions expect strong support for the nurses, especially given their heroic work during the pandemic.

– What is the Government’s response to the strikes?
The Prime Minister is promising “tough” new laws such as having minimum levels of service when workers walk out.

– Will this make much difference?
Unions are warning it will make things worse. Rail unions say it will be impossible to arrange minimum services and believe it could be dangerous if passengers believe trains will run and turn up at stations to cram onto already packed trains.

– What level of services will there be in hospitals when staff strike?
Emergencies will still be dealt with, but staffing levels are likely to resemble those for a bank holiday or Christmas Day. Union officials say some hospitals already have minimum staffing levels because of the huge shortage of nurses and other NHS workers.

– Is there any sign that disputes will continue into next year?
Yes. A strike ballot among firefighters and teachers closes in January, and junior doctors will start voting next month on strikes over pay.