Which professions would Britons back going on strike?

Connor IbbetsonData Journalist
July 21, 2022, 7:51 AM GMT+0

Brits would sympathise with nurses and doctors, firefighters, and supermarket staff striking, but not barristers, civil servants, or lecturers

First, it was the RMT union, then the barristers, now the Unite Union has announced a strike among postal managers later this month. Teachers, doctors, and NHS staff are also threatening walkouts. Mass strikes across the country could cause mass disruption for Britons, but with the cost of living crisis meaning everyone is feeling the pinch, do people back strikers fighting for better wages and conditions?

What strikes would Briton support?

Speakers at the British Medical Association annual conference – which represents doctors and medical students – said strikes would be the only way to repair their member's real-term pay cut. Indeed, if hospital staff do walk out, they are likely to find the public onside. Six in ten (60%) say they would support a nurse's strike, while 54% would support hospital doctors' strikes, compared to only 32% and 37% respectively who would oppose them. Despite support for nurses and hospital doctors, half of people (50%) would oppose a walkout among GPs, against the 29% who would support them doing so.

Firefighters have also joined the mounting list of professions threatening action over below-inflation pay rises, and the results show that 52% of Britons would support them.

The National Education Union has also said it will ballot members on a potential strike for the same reason, seeking “inflation plus” pay rises for its members. Britons are split however, 42% would support a walkout among primary and secondary teachers, while 46% would oppose them doing so.

With airports already in chaos due to a lack of staff, a strike among airport workers would also divide the public. Two in five (41%) would support an airport workers' strike, but 47% say they would oppose one.

Following the RMT strikes late last month, Britons lean towards opposing a strike among railway support staff such as ticket hall workers and engineers  (48%) rather than supporting it (40%). When it comes to train drivers specifically, the gap widens further, with 51% saying they would oppose strike action compared to 36% who would back them.

Three in ten people (32%) would back a strike by university staff, with 53% opposed. Similarly, only 27% would support striking civil servants, compared to 59% opposed.

Finally, despite their emotional pleas in the media during their recent strike, a mere 19% of people say they would support a strike among barristers. Nearly two-thirds saying they would oppose it (65%) – including 45% strongly opposing it.

What strikes would Britons sympathise with?

Given rising costs and inflation are hitting Britons across the board, can they sympathise with strikers? The research finds in most cases, people are more likely to empathise with those on strike than support them.

Some 71% of Britons say they would sympathise with a strike by nurses, including 42% who would have “a lot” of sympathy for them. This represents an 11-point gap compared to those who say they would support these strikers.

A similar proportion of the population say they would also sympathise with hospital doctors (65%), nine-points higher than those who would support their strike. However, people are split when it comes to GPs. Around two in five (46%) say they would empathise with GPs should they also strike, however, 48% say they would have little to no sympathy with GPs if they walked out.

Six in ten Britons (61%) say they would sympathise with fire crews on strike. Again, this is nine points higher than those would support them.  

Of the various roles asked about in the survey, primary and secondary school teachers are the last to have sympathy with around half of the public (51%) versus 42% who would not sympathise with them. A strike by university staff, on the other hand, would only garner sympathy from one in three people (35%), with over half saying they would have little sympathy for striking lecturers (56%).

Some 46% say they would sympathise with strikes among airport workers, while 45% would not.

Similar proportions of people say they would also sympathise with further strikes among railway support staff (45% versus 46% who would not). However, fewer would sympathise with a strike among train drivers (38% versus 55% who would not).

Finally, Britons would have the least sympathy for walkouts by civil servants (28%) and barristers (19%). Seven in ten (71%) say they would have little pity for striking barristers, including 45% with none at all.

See full results here