Socialist Worker

Does winning over public opinion win strikes?

Issue No. 2257

The mainstream media and politicians say that public opinion is against the strikes on 30 June.

There is absolutely no evidence that this is true.

However, we can get a reflection of public opinion by looking at the British Social Attitudes Survey.

When it asked whether trade unions have too much power, it found that only

13 percent of people agreed.

They are perhaps the same 13 percent who thought that workers got a fair share of income compared to the rich in the same survey.

It’s not true that public opinion is against strikes or unions. The presumption that most ordinary people don’t want workers to stand up for their rights is false.

In fact, lots of people are already planning how to support the strikers.

There is a concerted onslaught to shape public opinion whenever people resist. If opinion was so firmly against strikes, this wouldn’t be necessary.

Our rulers claim to care about public opinion now. But they don’t seem too concerned when everyone’s against a war or NHS privatisation.

It’s outrageous that they are pretending to care about people’s views—they go directly against them when they don’t suit them.

People hold many right wing ideas over things such as capital punishment, immigration and “benefit scroungers”. A minority of racists exploit the fears over immigration whipped up by politicians. This has some impact on opinion.

But that’s not an argument against immigration. It’s one against racists and racist politicians.

Public opinion is on many issues to the left of the establishment.

That’s precisely why anybody standing up against the bankers who sparked the crisis cuts with people.

When it comes to strikes, public support matters—but not in the way that Tory tabloids present it.

Hurt

If it is simply the case that a strike is about hurting the people who use services then of course it’s unhelpful.

But workers who go on strike never do so in order to hurt the people who use their services, such as schools or hospitals.

They are either defending them or fighting to improve those services.

There are some within the labour movement who believe that the key to winning a dispute is to be popular.

They’ve also swallowed the pessimistic view that those resisting the bosses are isolated and have little support.

But the point of a strike, as opposed to an advertising campaign to sway opinion, is that it hits the system where it hurts.

It shows who produces the wealth, provides the services and does the work that keeps the system going.

Firefighters have immense support. When they strike, they show up a very simple thing—who puts out the fires?

By withdrawing our labour we win an argument, not by focus group, but by showing the reality of how the system works.

Effective strikes by definition are more disruptive. That helps the right wing make an argument that they will lose support because they hit ordinary people.

Taking effective action means paying attention to what other workers think.

This is not about pandering to public opinion, but looking for solidarity.

At a basic level, the more people involved in supporting a dispute, the more others will gain the confidence to fight themselves.

The more people unite together the better the chance of winning.

Passive support has never won a strike, but solidarity makes a real difference to the outcome.

So we should look to mobilising as many different workers as possible to build solidarity. That can lay the basis for turning public support into action to win.


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.