Let's not get carried away with the "spring of discontent" story of recent weeks, as civil servants and rail workers have joined British Airways cabin crew in the march towards industrial action. Independent data from the Office for National Statistics suggests the number of strikes has been no higher in recent times than at any other moment under this Government.
Indeed, though you might expect to see more days lost to strikes during a recession, when employers are more likely to consider job cuts and poor pay increases, that has not happened. A total of 455,000 working days were lost to strikes last year, the ONS says, down from 759,000 in 2008 and 1.04 million in 2007.
The data for 2010 is as yet sketchy, but in January, the figure was just 4,000, compared to 7,000 in the same month last year. February's figure is not yet available but there is no reason to think it will be considerably higher (the BA strikes did not begin until this month). It is possible we are only now reaching the point of the economic downturn where workers feel driven to protest at employers' cost-cutting strictures. But pay freezes have been a feature of the workplace for two years now without any major increase in strike action.
And while the ONS's statistics only go back to 1994, they show strike numbers broadly in line with those under the last few years of the John Major government. I wouldn't mind betting the latest figures remain miles below those of the Seventies.
The BA strike, and the other actions, have political significance out of all proportion because of the impending election but are in reality just a handful of high-profile disputes. The data suggests there is no reason to think some sort of national strike is just around the corner.Reuse content