Throughout October we saw widespread strikes, from bins to the post and airline flights to buses – and it’s not yet over. (See article The Winter of Discontent: the sequel?) Last November, BA cut the number of cabin crew members, despite strike action, which delayed hundreds of flights. This issue has yet to be resolved and over the weekend, there were further talks to try to reach some agreement. However, no truce was reached and so further strikes are now expected. Indeed, the Unite union announced the results of another ballot of cabin crew, showing even larger support for strike action.
However, BA is not the only airline facing strike action. Some 4000 pilots at Lufthansa, a German airline, called a four-day strike, following disputes over job security. This has led to thousands of flights being cancelled and thousands of passengers left stranded. Although the strike was suspended after one day, the dispute is not settled.
The stimulus for this action appears to date back to the huge turnover that Lufthansa made in 2007, with pilots feeling they should have a share in this success, along with its recent purchase of Austrian Airlines and the need to turn this into a profitable enterprise. The Lufthansa pilots are concerned that foreign pilots will be brought in to replace them in order to reduce costs. The airline fears that this strike could cost them about £21.9 million per day. With both sides unwilling to yield, it looks as though many passengers may find themselves stranded for a bit longer.
- How effective is the strike action by Lufthansa and BA likely to be? Which factors affect this?
- With a huge turnover in 2007, why were pay cuts at Lufthansa felt to be necessary by the company?
- How would wages be determined in the airline industry without trade unions? Illustrate this on a diagram and use that to explain why some workers get paid more than others.
- On your diagram of wage determination, now illustrate the effects of a trade union entering the market. How are wages and the equilibrium level of employment affected?
- Other than striking, what other options do workers and unions have?
- If strike action is costly to BA and Lufthansa, why don’t they simply agree to the unions’ demands?
You may ask how on earth bins are related to the post. The simple answer is that these are two things that may not be collected. They say that one wedding brings on another, but it looks like that this also applies to strikes. The Winter of Discontent in 1978-9 saw widespread industrial action, where the country almost came to a stop. Is this really where we are now?
The postal strike has been widely publicised, but it’s not just your post that may not arrive. Bus drivers have been striking against First Bus in Greater Manchester and various other places following pay freezes. British Airways is to face the possibility of strike action over new contracts, working practices and pay freezes after talks broke down. The Spanish company Iberia had to cancel over 400 flights over two days due to protests, and in Leeds, rubbish hadn’t been collected for eight weeks.
So, what’s causing all of this discontent? Are we going to see more and more workers protesting over contracts, hours of work and notably pay?
One key thing about strikes is that they affect everyone, whether it’s walking past piles of bin bags; not receiving birthday cards; getting to work late; cancelling holidays or receiving fines for late payment, and even for not submitting your tax returns. These are all problems that people have been facing, not to mention the loss of income some businesses have seen, especially resulting from the postal strike. With the government looking to reduce public-sector debt by increasing taxes or spending cuts, including public-sector pay freezes and controls on banking bonuses, we could be in for another winter of discontent with further disruptions to come.
- What is the purpose of a strike and how effective are they likely to be? What are the costs?
- One of the reasons for strike action is pay freezes. What happens in an individual labour market when pay is frozen? What happens to the demand and supply of labour? Illustrate your answer with a diagram.
- Some news articles have referred to ‘picket lines’ forming. What are they?
- What is the difference between collective bargaining and individual bargaining? Which is more effective?
- Illustrate on a diagram the effect of a trade union entering an industry. How does it affect equilibrium wages and equilibrium employment? Is there any difference if the trade union faces a monopsonist employer of labour?
- Do you think the strike action is right? Why or why not? What are the things you have considered?
- Discuss whether we are heading towarads another ‘winter of discontent?’ Can it be stopped?
Everybody relies on post, whether it is bills, cards or packages, and everyone is annoyed when something goes missing, which has becoming an increasingly common occurrence. Over the past few weeks, a country already suffering from the economic downturn has also been suffering from a lack of post, as workers throughout the Royal Mail have been striking over pay and job cuts. Postal workers are now to vote on a national strike, although the Communication Workers Union (CWU) has said they will call it off if the Royal Mail agrees to stop all redundancies.
And it’s not just individuals who are suffering. Businesses have also been affected, as packages go missing and costs begin to rise. However, there is good news for one firm, the DX Group. DX Mail is the only independent mail operator in the UK which doesn’t rely on the Royal Mail for any part of its service. If the disputes continue, it could see a significant boost to its sales.
Consider the following articles and think about the effect this strike may have on businesses and the economy and then have a go at the questions.
Postal workers to vote on strike BBC News (17/9/09)
The DX: Keeping Business Mail moving during strike Hellmail (30/8/09)
Mail Privatisation to ‘go ahead’ BBC News (11/6/09)
Threat of strikes underlines TUC warning over spending cuts Times Online (14/9/09)
Postal strikes drive customers to Royal Mail’s rivals Guardian (18/9/09)
Postal workers strike in Swindon BBC News (16/9/09)
Royal Mail denies mail backlog BBC News (11/9/09)
Postal strike over job cutbacks The Herald (Plymouth) (5/9/09)
Managers and unions fail to sort out Royal Mail modernisation Guardian (17/9/09)
- In what ways is a postal strike likely to cost businesses?
- What other options are there for postal workers apart from strikes? Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each.
- How does a trade union affect wages and employment when an industry becomes unionised? What happens if a trade union is facing a monopsonist employer of labour?
- What is this dispute about and what do you think is the best way to resolve it for all concerned?
- Why in pay negotiations is a trade union more effective than each individual asking for higher pay?