Inside Westminster

The government needs to rethink its strategy on strikes

Declaring war on the unions by changing the law would make peace even harder to achieve, writes Andrew Grice

Friday 16 December 2022 17:10 GMT
<p>Voters know that public sector pay has been held down during the years of austerity</p>

Voters know that public sector pay has been held down during the years of austerity

The government’s strategy on the wave of industrial action isn’t working. Ministers express the hope that “the tide is turning” against the strikers but the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) hailed the first strike in its 106-year history as a “turning point”.

The uncompromising line of ministers might have worked if their only battle was against the rail workers, but the nurses are different. Public sympathy for them has persuaded several Tory MPs to call on the government to improve its pay offer. This is significant, as Tory backbenchers have been under strong pressure not to break ranks.

The latest opinion poll, for GB News today, shows that 44 per cent of people support the strikes and 29 per cent oppose them. But Ispos found that public backing for the nurses’ action has fallen. Privately, both government and union insiders admit public opinion is on a knife edge and could tip either way. Next week’s strike by ambulance workers could easily have more severe consequences than the nurses’ action.

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