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Bosses obviously don’t like strikes. But how do they react if you go on one?

It damages their business, but the wrong response could have legal implications, or lose them customers

The whole point in strikes is to disrupt a business’s activity, to make bosses and authorities listen, and to raise awareness of the striking workers’ cause.

Businesses could be forced to close their doors, cancel services, or have to cope with negative PR.

According to official UK statistics, 332,000 working days were lost due to strikes last year. And individual employers have highlighted the impact strikes have had on their businesses. In 2015, a South African mining company said the damage done by strikes had been “irreparable”, and cost the sector nearly $1bn.

So how employers react is vital for them: not just to make sure they don’t lose out on manpower, but also to make sure they don't lose their customers, or get on the wrong side of the government.

They need to get customers on side


Serco strike Barts
Striking Serco workers outside Bart's Hospital in London

Businesses will sometimes try and put themselves on the side of their customers – when French air traffic controllers went on strike, disrupting more than a thousand flights, Ryanair and Easyjet were pretty quick to speak out blaming the strikers for passengers' disruption.

And when hospital cleaners, employed by a private company called Serco, went on strike in the UK Serco dismissed workers’ concerns, blamed the Union and said it was “determined to ensure that Unite’s action does not impact patients”.

But that can backfire. Southern Rail, a privately operated section of the UK rail network, has been badly affected by strikes as it tries to cut the number of staff on trains. It tried to get passengers on its side and blamed the Union and the strikers for service disruption.



The problem was, commuters were already so pissed off with Southern Rail and its poor service that a good old social media backlash kicked in, and #southernfail was born – including calls to get the rail line taken away from Southern Rail and back under government control. 

But staying silent isn’t an option either. When a big media investigation was published looking into the way Sports Direct treated its workers, rather than respond immediately and say it was looking into it, it just said the report was flawed – a PR expert told the Telegraph:

“An immediate response by a named senior official, promising an internal investigation and immediate remedy, would have done much to repair the brand’s reputation.

“Unfortunately, an unnamed spokesperson simply said there were inaccuracies in the report, but declined to comment further. This defensive response and lack of information only served to validate the findings in the eyes of the public.”

And make sure they're on the right side of the law

In the US, the UK (and lots of other places) employees have a ‘basic right’ to form unions and go on strike. That means that although you may be breaking your contract by not turning up to work, your employer normally can’t fire you for it. You might not be paid for the hours you don’t work, but you can’t lose your job.

Of course, that line is pretty blurred, and there are lots of cases where bosses have fired staff. In 2016, a judge ruled that Walmart had unfairly dismissed 16 workers who protested at the company’s head offices during a strike.

In UK law, unions and strikers have to stick to some pretty strict rules over how the strike is organized, and breaking them means you could be open to punishment.


Fight for $15
The Fight for $15 movement in the US

There’s also a big question over how it affects your future job prospects. In the US-based fight for $15 movement, striking McDonald’s workers take part in a huge day of protests each year in order to raise attention for their cause. In 2014, hundreds of them were arrested.

In the US, if you get arrested and charged you go onto a FBI database which employers can see. In that situation you’re likely to get charged with a summary (or relatively minor) offence, and employers would find it hard to defend not hiring you based on that (in some states they can’t see your arrest record) but if they do see it, then it could be a red flag.

“It’s risking arrests. It’s risking losing your job,” an employment lawyer told the Guardian. “But there comes a point where you don’t have anything to lose any more. Even if arrests were to have an effect on their future job prospects, it says lot that they are willing to take the step anyway.”

This week, in the UK, Chukka Umunna, a Labour MP, said that some Trade Unionists had been ‘blacklisted’ for jobs on the UK’s biggest infrastructure program (and the largest construction program in Europe) – Crossrail.

Umunna was arguing that Crossrail employees who had taken part in a “peaceful” demonstration were put under surveillance. Two of those employees have since tried to get more jobs on Crossrail and failed. It’s definitely illegal, and Crossrail denied it goes on, but the business minister – who incidentally is a member of the Conservative Party which is traditionally a bit less amenable to unions – said in response, “I was shocked by what I heard and share his view, and that of other members, that blacklisting of trade union members and activists is completely unacceptable.”

But ultimately it's just a big power game

Strikes and unions exist to hand workers back a bit of power from employers.

Striking workers can force bosses to listen by shutting down whole businesses, train lines, and even hospitals; they can appeal to customers who can make their voices heard by siding with the strikers (as in the case of southern rail) or the bosses. If workers shout loud enough, or the rights abuses are bad enough, the government could get involved (like at Sports Direct).

But there’s a problem – when huge employers (like Walmart) come across as being anti-union, it feeds into people’s fear of being fired – which swings the power balance back again.

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Reader Comments

  • Macrocompassion

    Look to who owns the land of Greece and why they are not using it properly!

    Discover how much the value of the land is being speculated in by holding it unused and the resulting lack of opportunity. Why can’t small scale farmers begin their own production of farm produce and the selling of it to local suppliers for domestic consumption?

    Adam Smith (“Wealth of Nations”,
    1776) says that land is one of the 3 factors of production (the other 2 being
    labor and durable capital goods). The usefulness of land is in the price that
    tenants pay as rent, for access rights to the particular site in question. Land
    is often considered as being a form of capital, since it is traded similarly to
    other durable capital goods items. However it is not actually man-made, so rightly
    it does not fall within this category. The land was originally a gift of nature
    (if not of God) for which all people should be free to share in its use. But its
    site-value greatly depends on location and is related to the community density
    in that region, as well as the natural resources such as rivers, minerals,
    animals or plants of specific use or beauty, when or after it is possible to reach them. Consequently,
    most of the land value is created by man within his society and therefore its
    advantage should logically and ethically be returned to the community for its
    general use, as explained by Martin Adams (in “LAND”, 2015).

    However, due to our existing laws, land is owned and formally registered and its
    value is traded, even though it can’t be moved to another place, like other
    kinds of capital goods. This right of ownership gives the landlord a big
    advantage over the rest of the community because he determines how it may be
    used, or if it is to be held out of use, until the city grows and the site
    becomes more valuable. Thus speculation in land values is encouraged by the law,
    in treating a site of land as personal or private property—as if it were an
    item of capital goods, although it is not (Mason Gaffney and Fred Harrison:
    “The Corruption of Economics”, 2005).

    Regarding taxation and local community spending, the municipal taxes we pay are
    partly used for improving the infrastructure. This means that the land becomes
    more useful and valuable without the landlord doing anything—he/she will always
    benefit from our present tax regime. This also applies when the status of unused
    land is upgraded and it becomes fit for community development. Then when this
    news is leaked, after landlords and banks corruptly pay for this information,
    speculation in land values is rife. There are many advantages if the land
    values were taxed instead of the many different kinds of production-based
    activities such as earnings, purchases, capital gains, home and foreign company
    investments, etc., (with all their regulations, complications and loop-holes).
    The only people due to lose from this are those who exploit the growing values
    of the land over the past years, when “mere” land ownership confers a financial
    benefit, without the owner doing a scrap of work. Consequently, for a truly
    socially just kind of taxation to apply there can only be one
    method–Land-Value Taxation.

    Consider how land becomes
    valuable. New settlers in a region begin to specialize and this improves their
    efficiency in producing specific goods. The central land is the most valuable
    due to easy availability and least transport needed. This distribution in land
    values is created by the community and (after an initial start), not by the
    natural resources. As the city expands, speculators in land values will
    deliberately hold potentially useful sites out of use, until planning and
    development have permitted their values to grow. Meanwhile there is fierce
    competition for access to the most suitable sites for housing, agriculture and
    manufacturing industries. The limited availability of useful land means that the
    high rents paid by tenants make their residence more costly and the provision
    of goods and services more expensive. It also creates unemployment, causing
    wages to be lowered by the monopolists, who control the big producing
    organizations, and whose land was already obtained when it was cheap. Consequently
    this basic structure of our current macroeconomics system, works to limit
    opportunity and to create poverty, see above reference.

    The most basic cause of our continuing poverty is the lack of properly paid
    work and the reason for this is the lack of opportunity of access to the land
    on which the work must be done. The useful land is monopolized by a landlord
    who either holds it out of use (for speculation in its rising value), or
    charges the tenant heavily for its right of access. In the case when the
    landlord is also the producer, he/she has a monopolistic control of the land
    and of the produce too, and can charge more for this access right than what an
    entrepreneur, who seeks greater opportunity, normally would be able to afford.

    A wise and sensible government would recognize that this problem derives from
    lack of opportunity to work and earn. It can be solved by the use of a tax
    system which encourages the proper use of land and which stops penalizing
    everything and everybody else. Such a tax system was proposed 136 years ago by
    Henry George, a (North) American economist, but somehow most macro-economists
    seem never to have heard of him, in common with a whole lot of other experts.
    (I would guess that they don’t want to know, which is worse!) In “Progress and
    Poverty” 1879, Henry George proposed a single tax on land values without other
    kinds of tax on produce, services, capital gains etc. This regime of land value
    tax (LVT) has 17 features which benefit almost everyone in the economy, except
    for landlords and banks, who/which do nothing productive and find that land
    dominance has its own reward.

    17 Aspects of LVT Affecting Government, Land Owners, Communities and

    Four Aspects for Government:

    1. LVT, adds to the national
    income as do other taxation systems, but it replaces them.

    2. The cost of collecting the LVT is less than for all of the production-related
    taxes–tax avoidance becomes impossible because the sites are visible to all.

    3. Consumers pay less for their
    purchases due to lower production costs (see below). This creates greater
    satisfaction with the management of national affairs.

    4. The national economy
    stabilizes—it no longer experiences the 18 year business boom/bust cycle, due
    to periodic speculation in land values (see below).

    Six Aspects Affecting Land Owners:

    5. LVT is progressive–owners of
    the most potentially productive sites pay the most tax.

    6. The land owner pays his LVT regardless of how his site is used. A large
    proportion of the ground-rent from tenants becomes the LVT, with the result
    that land has less sales-value but a significant “rental”-value (even
    when it is not used).

    7. LVT stops speculation in land prices and
    the withholding of land from proper use is not worthwhile.

    8. The introduction of LVT initially reduces the sales price of sites, even
    though their rental value can still grow over a longer term. As more sites
    become available, the competition for them is less fierce.

    9. With LVT, land owners are unable to pass the tax on to their tenants as rent
    hikes, due to the reduced competition for access to the additional sites that
    come into use.

    10. With LVT, land prices will
    initially drop. Speculators in land values will want to foreclose on their
    mortgages and withdraw their money for reinvestment. Therefore LVT should be
    introduced gradually, to allow these speculators sufficient time to transfer
    their money to company-shares etc., and simultaneously to meet the increased
    demand for produce (see below).

    Three Aspects Regarding Communities:

    11. With LVT, there is an
    incentive to use land for production or residence, rather than it being unused.

    12. With LVT, greater working opportunities exist due to cheaper land and a
    greater number of available sites. Consumer goods become cheaper too, because
    entrepreneurs have less difficulty in starting-up their businesses and because
    they pay less ground-rent–demand grows, unemployment decreases.

    13. Investment money is withdrawn from land and placed in durable capital
    goods. This means more advances in technology and cheaper goods too.

    Four Aspects About Ethics:

    14. The collection of taxes from
    productive effort and commerce is socially unjust. LVT replaces this extortion
    by gathering the surplus rental income, which comes without any exertion from
    the land owner or by the banks–LVT is a natural system of national income-gathering.

    15. Bribery and corruption on information
    about land cease. Before, this was due
    to the leaking of news of municipal plans for housing and industrial
    development, causing shock-waves in local land prices (and municipal workers’ and
    lawyers’ bank balances).

    16. The improved use of the more
    central land reduces the environmental damage due to a) unused sites
    being dumping-grounds, and b) the smaller amount of fossil-fuel use, when
    traveling between home and workplace.

    17. Because the LVT eliminates
    the advantage that landlords currently hold over our society, LVT provides a
    greater equality of opportunity to earn a living. Entrepreneurs can operate in
    a natural way– to provide more jobs. Then earnings will correspond to the
    value that the labor puts into the product or service. Consequently, after LVT
    has been properly introduced it will eliminate poverty and improve business