I come to work to keep
people safe. Going on strike
was about making
sure I still could. Lucy, firefighter
Going on strike is the last resort when things break down between staff and managers. But now the government’s trade union bill threatens the right to strike.
Protect the right to strikeSign the petition
Daisy, cinema worker
23-year-old Daisy lives in London, and is a member of BECTU, the media and entertainment trade union. Daisy says: “It’s vital to belong to a union if you’re working or you’re a freelancer, so you can protect yourself and other people at work.”
Following six months of unsuccessful pay negotiations, Daisy went on strike with cinema colleagues to fight for a living wage. The dispute was settled after 13 days of strike action, with staff voting to accept a 26 per cent pay rise over three years.
Daisy adds: “One of the things that kept us going was morale. People saw that we were valued and skilled members of staff and that the cinema couldn’t operate without us and so customers supported us.”
Going on strike wasn’t an easy decision for Daisy. She says: “This was the first time I have taken strike action. No one wants to lose pay or disrupt services. But when you’re in a situation where there is no other option then strike action is a sacrifice you have to accept.”
Daisy adds: “The right to strike is vital. Getting rid of this democratic right is a way of quietening the voice of workers and stacking all the cards in the hands of employers.”
Emma, fire control centre
31-year-old Emma works at a fire control centre and is a member of the Fire Brigades Union. She recently went on strike about management imposing cuts and changing shift patterns and working hours. The changes had serious impacts on Emma’s family life, forcing her to change her working hours and agree to a jobshare which involved taking a big pay cut.
Emma didn’t take the decision to strike lightly. She says: “We had a meeting before deciding to go on strike and we had to make sure everyone was happy and understood why we doing it. We received a lot of support from other parts of the fire brigade, the public and the local media - it’s unusual to have so many women go on strike together. In my control room there are 20 women and just 1 man. People took notice of that.”
The dispute is still ongoing, and Emma and her colleagues are prepared to go on strike again if need be: “We want to run a good service and protect the public. Hopefully by going on strike we can get a positive change, both for us - and for the public. We deserve to be treated fairly and we need to make sure we have enough staff to keep the public safe.”
37-year-old Lucy is a firefighter and a member of the Fire Brigades Union. She went on strike in 2014 over changes to the retirement age for firefighters, which would have seen them working up to an extra ten years and paying in more to pensions, but getting less back.
She and her colleagues went on strike as a last resort when negotiations failed. The strike action was not just motivated by the desire for a fair deal for workers, but also the need to protect public safety and professional standards by making sure that firefighters are still physically able enough to do such a demanding job up until the age they retire.
Lucy says: “Being a firefighter is an extremely physical job. Making firefighters work into their mid-60s is bad for public safety and will put lives at risk.”
Whilst the strike action was ultimately unsuccessful, she believes it was still worthwhile. Lucy comments: “Striking is a fundamental right. It stops your employer from walking all over you and ensures you have some power at the negotiating table. For me having the right to strike is about being able to protect the fire service and safety of the public when employers look to make damaging changes.”
Taj, bus driver
63-year-old Taj works for a large bus company and is a member of Unite the union. Taj has been a driver for his bus company for 42 years and, along with his colleagues, took part in strike action in for the first time in 16 years. The dispute was caused by new management not honouring their agreements to consult staff when they transferred jobs from Taj’s town to another town with just 3 days’ notice. Staff were taken off regular bus routes with no negotiation and no longer had guaranteed working hours.
Nearly 98 per cent of the 500 staff voted yes to a strike. Taj says: “Nobody wants to go on strike. It is a last resort. But management just weren’t listening to us. There was a huge strength of feeling that this wasn’t right. We needed to threaten strike action to persuade management to get round the table and talk to us.”
The drivers took part in a 48-hour strike before managers finally came to the negotiating table. Taj concludes: “Good business is all about finding a balance between employers and employees to get the fairest deal for everyone. The right to strike is absolutely crucial in this.”
29-year-old midwife Natalie is a member of the Royal College of Midwives. Last year the RCM went on strike for the first time in its 134-year history as part of a national dispute over pay. All the midwives wanted was for the government to honour their independent pay review body’s recommendation of a 1 per cent rise.
Natalie and her colleagues didn’t take strike action lightly. She explains: “Going on strike wasn’t something the midwives have ever done before. We were prepared to make the sacrifice of losing a day’s pay - but never at the expense of the women we look after. So up and down the country we talked to managers well in advance of the strike to make sure that there would be no implications for women on labour wards or who needed of immediate care.”
Natalie thinks the right to strike is important. She says: “I had never got involved in strike action before but it was a very empowering experience to stand together to achieve what was only fair. Not just for us but for the women we look after - valuing midwives is part of valuing women and babies. It was a hard decision but we prepared properly to make sure no one would suffer, and it was very important for us to have a voice. Now we don’t want to lose that voice just as soon as we have found it.”
Emma, research scientist
24-year-old Emma is a research scientist and a member of Unite the union. She went on strike in response to her company proposing to change pension rights.
Striking wasn’t a decision Emma took lightly, as losing out on a day’s pay isn’t easy. But she felt that the staff were pushed in to the position of needing to strike by the company. Whilst the pension issue didn’t affect her directly at the time, she believes “you have to stand up for the people around you.”
Emma and her colleagues went on strike for two days, and picketed outside the company. In the end, the company improved their pension offer and the workers settled on a much better deal. Emma says: “This definitely wouldn’t have happened without a strike.”
Emma believes that having the right to strike is extremely important: “Without the right to withdraw our labour people would have no leverage over their employers - we would have to roll over and just take whatever they give us”.