"Large Scale Strikes in the Uk Have All but Disappeared”. Critically Discuss Trends in Industrial Conflict in the Uk over the Last Decade

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There is a clear evidence to support the notion that large scale strikes have decline in the UK. Strikes are reported to be at an historical low level. They have gone into decline due to numerous factors. The fall in the level of strike activity can be attributed to lower trade union membership, stable economy, rise of individualism and (HRM) Human Resource Management, restrictive trade union legislations and sectoral shift in employment from manufacturing to service. The latter part has being the most influential on the decline of strike activity in the UK. Employment levels in strike prone industries such as mining, steel and docks have fallen. The changes in structural unemployment means that industries that have represented large scale strike no longer exists. They have been replaced by service industry which is less strike prone. In comparison to other developed western nations such as France and Italy, the UK strike action is of lower magnitude. It would therefore be a misjudgement to portray UK as a strike prone country. This is partly because strikes have merely being concentrated in the primary sector of the economy.

The amount of working days lost is a customary measure of the extent of large scale strikes. Hence, without the existence of coal miners, dockers, and the engineering strikes, trends in UK industrial conflict would be less substantial. However, there are indications of resurgence in low scale unorganised industrial conflicts such as absenteeism, sabotage, fiddling etc. Their emergence represents a significant threat to the concept of commitment in the workplace. The developments of a low scale strike actions clearly demonstrate labour workforce discontent. In addition, adoption of unorganised strike activity further confirms employee willingness to maintain resistance to radical management policies.

This essay will critically assess historical trends of strike activity in the UK. This means looking at the past industrial conflicts and identifying critical stage of strike actions. There will be a study into contemporary strike activity and causes of industrial conflicts in the UK.

Industrial conflicts occur when management and employee disagree on major issues. In the process of wage-effort bargaining, trade union may strike to exert pressure on employers. Jackson (1987) emphasised that economic, social and political issues can be influential on the decisions of employee to participate in strike. When management implement radical policies which restrict earning power and worsen working conditions of employee, this can give rise to the development of labour unrest. The desire of employee for labour reward through higher monetary recognition can also encourage management to ‘lock out’ close production. This means that both employee and employer can engage in strike activity. Therefore, as management seek to make an effective resource allocation of capital and labour, it can result in major disagreement between employee representatives and employers. With regard to social issue, Cronin (1979) suggested that the socio-economic background of an employee can be influential on whether they participate in a strike activity. For example, the mining industry which employ less skilled and lower pay workforce is recognised for engaging in industrial conflict.

Graph 1 (p.3) illustrates trends in industrial conflict. It shows that strikes have been historically low. In the period of industrial hostility, the numbers of working days lost to strike have risen from a low base. The primary sectors such as coal mining and dockers have being a major contributor to the loss of working days. According to Edwards, P.K. (1992, p.385) ‘proletarian solidarity’ plays a key role in the reluctance of both mining and docks community to give into the ‘white collar’ management. Based on this collectivism ideal, both coal miners and dockers have consistently managed to dominate the trends in industrial conflicts....
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