The Big Bad Wolf: Why do we Demonize Strikes?
By Ollie Chapman
Once upon a time there was a big bad wolf, and the big bad wolf had lots of little piggies working on his farm. The wolf paid the little piggies with vegetables to eat. However, over time the wolf demanded that the little piggies take less and less vegetables, even though they kept doing the same work. Without the little piggies, the farm would not function, and it would become redundant. But surely the big bad wolf has a reason not to give the little piggies their hard-earned vegetables? Well, one day the little piggies walked into the big bad wolf’s house to find him eating all of the vegetables for himself! The little piggies were not happy! This is the worst thing they’d seen since David Cameron visited the farm. In this situation, the most reasonable conclusion would be to support the little piggies, right? Well, apparently not everybody agrees.
The Labour Party has a rich history of supporting not only the right to strike but strikes themselves. Being founded on left wing, socialist values, this makes perfect sense. But, in recent times, as working and pay conditions have become untenable, workers have begun more commonly exercising this right, leading many of us to question, where is the Labour party?
In July of 2022, Junior Shadow Transport Minister, Sam Tarry, was sacked from his role as he gave interviews from the RMT picket line at London Euston. Labour spokespeople at this time said that this was due to the convention of collective frontbench responsibility, with Tarry’s words not fitting with the official Labour stance. Sky News reported that Tarry had said that workers should not accept a below-inflation pay rise, whereas Labour’s official line was that pay negotiations are for unions and ministers. So, seemingly, Tarry was sacked for what seems to be a perfectly reasonable and pro-worker opinion.
In my own opinion, this doesn’t quite reflect the actions of a pro-strike political party; rather it promotes the big bad wolf’s moves to keep all the piggie’s carrots.
In January 2023, staunchly left-wing, socialist politician, Rishi Sunak, announced plans to introduce new anti-striking legislation. This legislation would introduce ‘minimum service levels’, meaning specific key workers would have to provide a certain amount of work during strikes. There is a misconception amongst many people that if you’re left-wing or more specifically pro-striking, then you’re an idealist who wants to put public safety at risk due to supporting key workers in disputes. It is fair to concede that blue light workers not working causes big problems, but this can and has become a gross injustice and re-writing of actual events. Key public industries, like police, health, and education, have been defunded by the Conservatives since 2010.
The real enemy of society is the big bad wolf, the Tories, who have gradually decreased police, fire service, teaching staff and paramedic numbers by defunding them for a decade. Fighting for fair pay, to enable fair living, and better conditions, will ensure they remain in their roles and protect and educate us as they so selflessly do. It is worth noting that Keir Starmer said he would repeal such legislation if elected. It is clear to me, as I have written before, that Starmer is trying to walk a very fine line between sticking to Labour values and appeasing middle England, much like Blair. This is clearly not working.
The wages of many people in the UK do not allow people the sufficient funding for their basic needs, this is a disgrace. That’s what our Liz said, right? Doubt it. For anyone to suggest that the people striking are unreasonable, is simply wrong. Either they can’t afford to maintain a roof over their head, or they can’t afford to work any longer in such poor conditions. How can we be ‘Great’ Britain, when we have more than 13 million people living in poverty. The classic classist line is, ‘All these lazy people on benefits should get a job.’ The same people are disgusted at the prospect of workers fighting for what they deserve. The crisis our country faces in 2023 is called the ‘cost of living’ crisis for a reason, whilst Sunak sits in a toasty Number 10, our industry workers are on their knees.
So, why do people support the big bad wolf over the little piggies? Well, they don’t necessarily.
According to a 2023 Opinium poll for the Observer, people are more in support of nurses and ambulance workers striking than against, however many are slightly more split, leaning towards against when it comes to rail workers and primary school teachers. This is a large reason why Labour’s unclear stance on the subject is very frustrating. Despite this, there certainly is a rhetoric that has grown in the UK that left-wing individuals believe in a ‘magic money tree’ and this really isn’t the case. There have been cuts for so many years which have caused education, the NHS, and many industries to crumble. Nevertheless, some people genuinely seem ignorant to what they are witnessing in the UK’s cost of living crisis. It is correct that there isn’t a magic money tree, this is of course obvious. But Tory incompetence has wasted money and there is an unbelievable amount of wealth held by nothing but greed at the top of elitist corporations. The wealth in question could be taxed slightly more and provide an incredible amount of support to our public sector, the wealthiest in society would hardly notice. To finally further the point of Tory incompetence, as Howard Beckett (Assistant General Secretary of Unite Union) says, the money spent by the Conservatives on their failed ‘Track & Trace’ system would have paid for a 15% pay rise for every NHS worker from now until the 2050’s. I think that’s a quite a, striking, statistic if I do say so myself.