Strikes: Who are the ‘good’ strikers and who are the ‘bad’ ones? How you answer says a lot about you

Strikes: Who are the ‘good’ strikers and who are the ‘bad’ ones? How you answer says a lot about you

Updated: 1 month, 9 days, 18 hours, 19 minutes, 2 seconds ago

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There used to be a set formula for Tory governments confronted by strikes: cry crocodile tears for the public, get your mates in the tabloids to run hit pieces on union bosses and talk about not being able to afford more than the “generous” offers on the table. Then wait it out and hope for the backing of a frustrated public. That isn’t working so well this time around.

For a start, the public doubts the sincerity of a governing party whose stock in trade is lying. The current generation of union bosses have also been very effectively making the case for their members. It doesn’t hurt that people are all too well aware of the impact of the cost of living crisis, which is the spark that lit the flame prompting the walkouts.

Everyone’s getting hit and so there is considerable sympathy for people doing no more than fighting for fair wages. As for the Tory tabloids, they have, to some extent, been defanged. They aren’t as influential as they once were. Still, I detect a hierarchy of strikers and the polls bear this out.

Top of the tree are the nurses. The latest survey, by Opinium for the Observer, put those in support of their action at 60 per cent, twice the number in opposition (29 per cent). Is it any wonder? While they were putting in 12 hour shifts, ministers stood on their doorsteps and insincerely clapped on pandemic Thursdays while the booze was flowing in Number 10, otherwise known as lockdown party central.

You can still see signs up at building sites and other public works bearing the legend “thank you NHS”. People feel that. And they know who to blame for the service’s problems.

They also know that Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng pissed £60bn up the wall as part of a mad ideological crusade while similarly eye popping numbers were poured into the coffers for useless kit under Boris Johnson while Covid was doing its worst. When ministers claim the country can’t afford to settle, it just doesn’t ring true.

It is a limp argument even without the (by now) de-rigueur crass comments from Tory MPs, such as the clownish Simon Clarke who insisted that the government did not get the credit it deserved on NHS pay in a Facebook debate.

He also claimed he could make £300k to £400k in the private sector when people grumbled about the £84k he makes as an MP. Shall we see how that works after the next election, Mr Clarke? Given the government’s staggering incompetence, the current crop of Tory MPs might have few options beyond banging on Uber’s door when they lose their seats. Taking revellers home after a Friday night on the town would at least see them doing a useful job.

Ambulance drivers come next. They’re actually not all that far behind the nurses in terms of public sympathy. An Ipsos Mori poll for the Evening Standard last week found 50 per cent support for nurses (note how that is hardening) against 34 per cent opposed, while 47 per cent were behind ambulance workers compared with 37 per cent opposed. Perhaps we can characterise this one as people saying “yes, we do back you, just so long as there’s cover”?

Inevitably bringing up the rear are the rail workers. Another Ipsos Mori poll, also published last week, found 30 per cent backing them, with 36 per cent opposed and 27 per cent neutral. Numbers like that get the right wing drooling. Here’s our chance! The public’s not listening to us on the NHS but at least we can paint RMT general secretary Mick Lynch as the spawn of Satan! And so they have.

The Sun’s recent front page – “You’ve Lost it Lynch” – might just as well have read “Burn the Witch”. Lynch was characterised as the leader of a hard left cabal dedicated to destroying Britain’s economy, which was frankly hilarious. Any damage his members’ walkouts will do pales into insignificance when set against the rank economic vandalism of recent Conservative governments.

The narrative the right has been pushing on Lynch and his members is built of straw. Lynch blows it over every time he appears on TV. Just watch his ding dong with Richard Madeley, in which he made the ITV presenter look like a prize chump.

Other interviewers going in with the “nasty union boss” line have found themselves similarly tripped up by a man whom media trainers will be telling their clients to watch for years to come. Even the shot The Sun took at his salary – £85k – was ridiculous. Sure, it’s good money. But it’s a relative pittance for running a large organisation. For fighting for his members, he makes a few quid more than Clarke gets for being a rubbish backbencher.

Lynch’s strikers are, in reality, little different from those of the nurses or the ambulance drivers. They’ve seen their wages eaten up by inflation. The railways don’t work well because they struggle under the burden of bad management, under investment and government neglect. That isn’t the fault of the unions. It’s the fault of people like Rishi Sunak and Clarke and Kwarteng and Truss and the people who sit alongside them.

There shouldn’t be a hierarchy of strikers. They’re all in the same boat; they’re all walking out and talking a considerable financial hit for doing so, for the exact same reasons. All these disputes need to be resolved through talks and fair settlements. Now, ask yourself: who’s preventing that?