Public sector strikes

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
June 30, 2011, 7:36 PM GMT+0

British public opinion is largely split over today’s strikes, our poll has found, although the public is a shade more disapproving than approving of the stoppage. This is despite slightly more people disapproving of the proposed changes to pensions than supporting them.

Many teachers and civil servants, along with other public sector workers across the country, are striking today over the Government’s proposed pension reforms. Four unions are taking part in strikes; three teaching unions ‒ the National Union for Teachers (NUT), the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the University and College Union (UCU) ‒ alongside members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS).

  • 40% of British people support teachers going on strike on Thursday over public sector pensions
  • While 49% oppose the teachers’ industrial action
  • Similarly, 38% of people support civil servants striking
  • While 50% oppose the move
  • 47% of people oppose the Government’s changes to public sector pensions
  • Compared to 37% who support the alterations

Regarding strikes generally, 58% of the public support the idea that unions should only be able to strike after securing the support of at least 50% of the total union members, not just those who turned out to vote. Each union involved in today’s strikes won over 50% support among those who voted, but low turnout numbers mean that in reality less than half of total members actively called for strike action. 29% of Brits feel that the support of 50% of those voting, regardless of overall numbers, is sufficient grounds for a strike. 13% aren’t sure.

‘Wrong’, or ‘taking a stand’?

The poll comes as tens of thousands of public sector workers strike today in opposition to changes to pensions for public sector works. The Government has said that due to an aging population, the current funding for pensions is ‘unsustainable’ and public sector workers should pay more into their pensions, work for longer, and accept a pension based on a ‘career average’ salary.

Members of the Government and the Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband have expressed their opposition to strike action. Prime Minister David Cameron said that striking would be ‘wrong ‒ for you, for the people you serve [and] for the good of the country.’ Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has similarly surmised that strikes ‘aren’t going to help the millions of members of the trade union movement’. Leader of the opposition Ed Miliband called strike action a ‘mistake’.

Meanwhile NUT leader Christine Blower has said that ‘teachers do not take strike action lightly’ but accused the Government of trying to ‘ride roughshod over them’ in changes to their pensions. ATL president Andy Brown stated: ‘We do not want to strike, but unless we take a stand now the Government will irreparably damage education in this country and children will lose out.

Interestingly, while 28% of Brits say that the strike will make them respect the teaching profession less, almost half (45%) say that the strikes will not affect their positive view of teachers, and one in ten (10%) feels that the strike will actually increase their respect for the profession.