One day teachers' strikes cause self-employed to lose one week's work, says Minister

Janet Downs's picture
‘But what about the low-paid restaurant staff who miss a day’s work and a day’s pay because of a stoppage called by a handful of transport workers? What about the self-employed builder who has to turn down a week-long job because a strike by teachers means that his kids cannot go to school? What about the single mother who cannot afford to lose a day’s pay by refusing to cross a picket line? Should she be subjected to abuse and harassment simply for going to work?’

Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, House of Commons, on the effects of strike action on other workers, 14 September 2015

But are the effects as negative as Javid’s rhetorical questions would suggest? Recently published research from Oxford University Department for Economics on the 2014 tube strike found one in twenty workers found superior ways of getting to work when forced to make alternative arrangements (summarised here). And the single mother concerned about losing a day’s pay could apply to unions’ hardship funds.

But what about Javid’s builder allegedly turning down a week’s work because strike action stops his children going to school? Teachers’ strikes in England don’t last a week – they normally last a day. And there were only a tiny number of one-day strikes in the last academic year*. It’s unclear, then, why Javid’s builder should claim teachers’ strike action lost him (or her) a week’s work. A cynic might say one day’s industrial action was an excuse to take one week’s term-time holiday.

But that’s speculation. Just as Javid’s attempt to seize the moral high ground is speculation.

Teachers don’t strike lightly. And there were no teachers’ strikes between the mid-1980s and 2008 when the first teachers’ day of action was described as a mere ‘symbolic action’.

But according to Javid, this ‘symbolic action’ causes self-employed builders to lose one week’s work. Javid is exaggerating when he claims a one-day strike would result in anyone, self-employed or not, losing a week’s work. And far more harm is being done to children’s education by constant political interference and so-called reforms than by a small number of one-day strikes.

NOTES: *I’ve been trying to find the number of national one day teachers’ strikes in 2014/15 but have been unable to do so. Please comment below if you have a link to a reliable source giving this information.

I was involved in the 1980s industrial action. I was concerned my CSE English pupils shouldn’t suffer during my absence so I set them work to do at home. They didn’t do it but that wasn’t because they were striking in solidarity (as they claimed). It was because avoiding work was their default position.
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David Barry's picture
Tue, 15/09/2015 - 21:17

It is a little curious that, at a time when strikes are rare, the Government should be seeking to restrict the right to strike so much. I assume that because members of the public find strikes annoying, and the popular wisdom is that strikes are always bad news for Labour (by association) that its politics and that the Government will hope that Labour Party opposition to restriction of the right to strike, now certain with Corbyn as leader, will do Labour electoral harm.

FJM's picture
Tue, 15/09/2015 - 21:25

One day strikes are a pointless and irritating gesture. If teachers were serious, they would go on an all-out, indefinite strike, not that I am advocating that by any means.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 16/09/2015 - 06:55

FJM - you're right that one day strikes are gestures. But teachers don't strike lightly, as I said. It's not lack of seriousness that prevents all-out, indefinite strikes but knowing that such action would damage children's education.
It's noticeable that the number of one-day teachers' strikes increased during Gove's reign. His attitude that unions were members of the 'Blob' and the only good teachers were those in his favoured academies wasn't conducive to good relations.

David Barry's picture
Thu, 17/09/2015 - 21:05

Hmmm. Good point about the number of one day teacher strikes having increased under Gove. Which might explain why this example was used. There is also the point that the next step after this Bill is through and law, would be another Bill to declare a number of occupations "essential" and ban strikes in those occupations altogther. (So, the Police are already banned from striking). Javid could be starting the construction of a case for declaring teaching to be "essential" in that sense....

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 18/09/2015 - 08:20

David - according to a straw poll done by a travel agency (and therefore a vested interest in encouraging term time holidays) 66% of the parents said a term time holiday would have 'no effect whatsoever' on their child's education. Let's hope this 66% doesn't start moaning about a one-day teachers' strike.

Patrick Hadley's picture
Wed, 16/09/2015 - 07:50

Has any teachers' strike ever been successful? I have always thought them to be completely pointless.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 16/09/2015 - 08:09

Patrick - the rolling programme of strikes in the mid-1980s did usher in a Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act. According to the BBC, however (see link in main article), the action resulted in a lowering of respect for teachers and left unions impotent to argue against the imposition of the National Curriculum.

I suspect the lowering of respect was helped along by negative media coverage re state schools and a Government which wanted to reduce the influence of local authorities.

Guest's picture
Thu, 17/09/2015 - 15:59

These blatantly politically focused comments are utterly pathetic and ignore what is directly inform of Sajid's nose! What about the self employed person who takes their child(ren) out of school for 2 weeks during term time for a family holiday?

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