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World News

Church leaders should help resolve industrial disputes says Christian trade union representative

by Donna Birrell

A Christian trade union representative is urging Church leaders to step in to help resolve industrial disputes which look likely to cause misery for millions of people this summer.

It comes as the RMT union says it's "extremely likely" there'll be more walkouts in the coming months, causing further disruption to the railways. Teachers could also be balloted in the autumn over possible industrial action and some British Airways GMB union members have also been balloted over whether to walk out over pay.

Rev Chris Wilson is trade union officer for the organisation Christians on the Left. He’s been speaking to Premier Christian News about why he thinks Christians should be playing a major role in reconciling disputes between employers and workers:     

“I think in terms of a Christian perspective, we should always begin by recognising that strike action is always a sign of failure. It's never a sign of success and all people of goodwill will want to resolve the issues as quickly as they can be resolved.

“I think it's understandable that trade unions are seeking to protect the interests of their members, we're now in a period of high inflation and I think we do need to remember that public sector workers in particular have had a period of two to three years of pay freeze. So in the end, I don't think we can really blame trade unions for doing what trade unions should be doing, which is to protect and to promote the interests of their members.

“We need to understand that sometimes working people feel they have nowhere else to go but to withdraw their labour, but as long as it's done peacefully and legally, I don't think it’s something that should, in that context, overly concern us. What should concern us is how do we get a settlement to the issues?

“I think Christians should be proactive in arguing for a settlement and arguing for both parties to come together, to get around the table and to work out their issues, because one thing's for certain, a dispute will only be concluded by negotiation.

“From a Christian perspective we should work for reconciliation. We should be peacemakers and I think the Christian voice in the public domain should be one which is arguing for industrial peace, and arguing for the parties to come together.

Rev Chris says there has always been a place for peaceful protest at the heart of the Christian life :

“I think sometimes Christians forget the Christian roots of trade unions. Even the term ‘brother and sister’, which some unions still use, came from the Christian language of the 19th century, so there is a big part of Christian DNA in the trade union movement. In the difficult period of the General Strike of 1926, the senior leadership of the Church of England actively argued for the two sides to come together and the Methodist Church did something similar.

“I think what's been noticeable by its absence in the current dispute and maybe in disputes which may be coming, is this absence of a Christian voice, arguing for conciliation, arguing for negotiation, and arguing for the two sides to come together. It seems to me that if our government is prepared to do that, perhaps churches should too.”



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