The Little Things That Restore Your Faith in Humanity – 2

by Miriam Ronzoni on February 10, 2023

Nurses to begin second day of strikes as union leader tells Rishi Sunak to 'listen' or risk further industrial action | Politics News | Sky NewsNurses' strike: 'I want to join the picket but can't afford to' - BBC NewsThousands of nurses go on strike across England | ITV News

I had promised you a series on “The Little Things That Restore Your Faith in Humanity,” but then failed to deliver for months after the first item. It wasn’t because I forgot about it, got too busy or distracted, or saw no reason for optimism around me. It’s rather because the things that have caught my attention since are on the “big” side of the spectrum. This one  probably is, too, but…oh, well.

It’s the changing public opinion attitude towards strikes, and industrial action more generally, in the UK. Well, even more than that it’s the sheer fact that industrial action is back in the toolkit of political action, and with a vengeance at that – but there is no reasonable way this could be called a “little thing,” so late me make a separate post about it.

I live in Manchester, in a neighbourhood with a very high number of public sector workers, and whose nickname is “The People’s Republic of Chorlton.” So sure, the level of support – indeed enthusiasm – that I witness around me is most probably not representative. Still, it’s not only an echo chamber effect. Public opinion is by and large in favour of the current wave of strikes in the public sector (and in some areas of the private sector). Striking is no longer seen as a privilege which only public sector workers can afford engaging in without serious repercussions, and a nuisance for everybody else. Of course, the level of support is also a contributing factor to the level and spread of industrial action to begin with. This is especially true because the support seems to be resilient over time, even as some disputes in some crucial sectors stretch out; and because it seems to be correlated to beliefs about fairness, not to whether a particular set of strikes is disruptive or not. So, yeah, point taken: definitely not a little thing. Watch this space.



Sashas 02.10.23 at 2:15 pm

I’ve been watching the UCU action from my side of the pond, and it’s a joy to see. Complaints about the value of higher education in that other recent thread notwithstanding, I want our college & university staff and faculty to be treated well! I like seeing my UK colleagues take matters into their own hands and demand good treatment.


Phil 02.10.23 at 3:42 pm

Another Chorlton resident here – what are the odds? (My take on the ‘people’s republic’ line is qualified by my experience in the local Labour Party – more specifically, in what was basically the Left opposition – but that’s another discussion.)

I agree that the current level of public support for strikers – public tolerance, for that matter – is extraordinary, but I do wonder how much effect it will have. We’re used to politics having feedback loops that connect governments (however imperfectly) with what’s going on on the ground: if the government won’t listen, get it in the papers; if the papers aren’t covering it, get the opposition party onto it; if the opposition party won’t listen, start a campaign; if the campaign doesn’t get any traction, get out on the streets. The awful secret that Johnson bequeathed to British politics is that governments don’t have to listen; they don’t even have to acknowledge that anything is going on at all. (And this is new. The Blair government’s refusal to listen to the Stop the War movement was seen as scandalous; even Thatcher at her most defiant was always acknowledging that there was pressure from below.) Sunak has taken to “government by doing nothing” like a natural, aided on one hand by his government’s effective outlawing of protest (also initiated by Johnson) and on the other by the current official opposition’s reluctance to do anything so undignified as oppose.

So, yes, the people one talks to are generally in favour of the strikers, and the polls periodically bear this out, and that is a remarkable fact – and it certainly doesn’t look as if the Tories will be able to make any capital from standing against the strikes. But, with very little media attention and only occasional gestures of support for strikers from the official Left, there’s not much incentive for the governnment to change course – or to do anything at all. They must be betting that everyone will eventually go back to work, the world will turn and the caravan will move on – and, in the extraordinarily permissive media/political environment they now enjoy, who’s to say they’re wrong.


Phil 02.10.23 at 3:47 pm

PS Or, I suppose, it could go like this…

I saw the beautifully simple bit of political détournement linked below before I saw its original, and was briefly impressed at the resources that some unknown activists had managed to deploy.

Fancy a General Strike?


Ray Vinmad 02.10.23 at 11:01 pm

Well, this is the advantage (for lack of a better word) of the much more broad screwing over of the general public that various wealthy people have committed themselves to.

The early 00s were a time of getting anxious, but knuckling under because the promise of better things was still in the air.

Then came the 08 crash, and the rolling lessons of that compounded with many pretty naked depredations in the US and UK that people felt in their daily lives more acutely as time went on.

There will be more of this –where people see they could work together and take back some power. It comes with more ugly attempts to divide us plus brutality to put us down. These backfire though (usually).


John Q 02.17.23 at 7:35 pm

Thanks for this, Miriam. I think this is happening more generally. Looking for reports on a big US strike last year, I found, from 2021 “Strike Support: What Is It and How You Can Help Striking Workers”. The source? Teen Vogue


engels 02.17.23 at 9:17 pm

Teen Vogue got a lot better in the last few years.


Barry 02.18.23 at 1:00 am

Teen Vogue has been good, ever since they ran an article on gaslighting early in the Trump administration. Meanwhile the ‘liberal MSM’ was hemming and hawing and bothsiding.


Miriam Ronzoni 03.19.23 at 7:43 pm

Hi Phil, I am sorry I never replied to you – and I am sure we must have bumped into each other several times without knowing it! I do think there is something a bit different this time, and quite a few of the strikes are coming to reasonably decent resolutions. I don’t want to sound like a Lexiter, but the level of labour shortages that the UK is experiencing (they are present in Europe, too, but less extremely) is having an impat on the bargaining power of workers. Let’s see how this unfolds (and when the Labour Party decides to wake up)

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