human rights strike

The Right to Strike

Strikes, like wars are sometimes inevitable but in the aftermath there are no winners. There is always at least a short term cost for both sides. Often there are resultant long term changes.

Over the centuries, attitudes to many things have changed. We’re all familiar with appalling working conditions in mills, factories and mines etc. at the time of the Industrial Revolution. The cruel conditions were partly down to exploitation by greedy employers but also in part to the tollerance of what was considered acceptable in those harsh times.

As time passed attitudes changed and philanthropic businessmen such as Titus Salt worked to improve conditions for his employees. But not all employers were so inclined and trade union movement grew in size and strength to protect the rights of workers. Following each of the World Wars, attitudes towards working conditions and basic human rights altered significantly. Britain is famous for its reputation for fair play, so public opinion often sways towards those who appear to be suffering oppression.

Until very recently the UK has enjoyed a period of settled labour relations. Most people on both sides accept good working conditions and employment relations are beneficial to all. With profitable returns for owners, leading to a financially stable company resulting in secure employment for workers.

The right to strike is important, but we should not abuse it. Strikes, like wars are sometimes inevitable but in the aftermath there are no winners. There is always at least a short term cost for both sides. Often there are resultant long term changes.

Take the current BA strike. I don’t profess to know the “ins and outs” of the dispute and I try to take a balanced, objective view on such matters. However, at a time when many employees across the country in numerous different industries are facing enforced redundancy and staff are volunteering to take pay cuts in order to save jobs, I’m far from convinced the groundswell of public support is with the staff. Certainly, a recent article quoted a serviceman having difficulty comprehending and putting into perspective what the dispute was about when his colleagues were literally risking life and limb daily.

So whatever the truth, whether it is Willie Walsh determined to smash any resistance or Unite acting grossly out of proportion to the issues, the commercial reality is the dispute can only damage the future well-being of the company. It is claimed BA has already lost nearly £50m due to a cabin crew walkout. Despite which it claims it still has “significant funding” available to allow it to stay in business should flights be grounded for a “considerable period”. But all businesses have finite resources – proved beyond doubt by the financial demise of giants like General Motors, the investment bank Lehman Brothers and the telecommunications firm WorldCom.

At a time when compromise seems to be the order of the day for politicians, it’s time common sense prevailed in these negotiations before irreversible damage is done to the business.

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