After a wave of national strikes this week saw up to half a million junior doctors, teachers, civil servants, lecturers, London Underground drivers, railway workers, BBC journalists and Amazon workers walk out, a Christian think-tank leader has urged Christians to get behind them.
“I think there is a revival amongst trade unions at the moment”, commented Simon Barrow of Ekklesia. “Many workers, including the lowest paid workers in the country in the public sector, have seen their income fall by 25% over the last five years”, he added. “And really, you know, that's why they're taking action. It's not because they want to go on strike.”
Speaking to Premier Christian Radio, he urged churchgoers to join a trade union:
“I think it would be a wonderful thing to do, because it is actually about loving your neighbour. It's about acting in love and solidarity with other people and also often trying to defend the weakest.”
“The history of trade unions is also in part a Christian history”, he continued. “Methodism was extremely important in it. My own union, the National Union of Journalists, rather quaintly calls our branches ‘chapels’, because of where they met in some of the early days. So I'd love to see much more Christian engagement with trade unions.”
Across Britain, hundreds of picket lines formed this week outside government offices, schools, hospitals, universities and Tube stations in one of the biggest walkout for years.
But there is a glimmer of a negotiated settlement in the health service, with news that further strikes by ambulance staff and other NHS workers are suspended. Health unions have announced they will recommend acceptance of a new pay offer to NHS staff.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan is urging teachers to do the same, "They should just pause their strikes while they get in the room. Its exactly what we offered the NHS, the nurses have been negotiating for over two weeks in serious discussions with the government. If its good enough for the nurses it should be good enough for the teachers."
But Simon Barrow struck a note of caution to Premier:
“The reality is that we are experiencing the longest pay squeeze for ordinary people for more than 200 years. On current terms, real wages won't return to 2008 levels until 2026.”
“The chancellor spoke about a high wage and a high skills economy, but he didn't really do anything to deliver it. And that's the problem. There's no plan to get wages rising across the economy. We need a fully funded workforce plan across the public services to recruit and retain key workers.”