Industrial action comes about because industrial relations have turned sour. Unions resort to industrial action simply because negotiations have taken an unsatisfactory turn or have reached an unsatisfactory end. A strike then is a fairly brutal method of trying to influence the negotiations. Its at the business end of the spectrum. Essentially its coercion. When we strike, were trying to force an employers hand. Its the withdrawal of our labour until a grievance is settled. Thats an aggressive strategy and its one that a Christian ought to be reluctant to employ too readily. Im not saying that its never right, though I am saying that it should make us cautious. Consider these words in 1 Peter 2:18
18 Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.
Were meant to be submissive employees who, because of our faith, are prepared to stomach being wrongly treated. That does not mean we sit down and take the wrong treatment, and say or do nothing about it. So, in general, Christians should be reluctant to strike.
So what approach should employees take when they have a legitimate grievance with their employers? Negotiation. But we need to urge our union representatives to stay at the table and keep the discussion going. They need to make our case to try to persuade the employers of the rightness and reasonableness of our position. I’m not naive. I understand that employers (having been one) may not always listen, they may not be objective in their deliberations and it may make no difference whatsoever. But we do need to be convinced that our union reps have exhausted all forms of communication before resorting to striking.
I’m not saying that Christians should never strike. There may be circumstances where thats the right thing to do. The reason that I dont think that loyalty to our employers is absolute is because there are situations where we need to be loyal to a greater cause. And that greater cause is justice and righteousness. Theres something godly about sticking up for the poor and the exploited. Even if we may be willing to work for an employer who treats the staff unfairly there will be times when we feel its appropriate to join in solidarity with our fellow workers and oppose the perpetuation of injustice.
Historically employers have exploited the work force. Their selfish greed for profits and the ready availability of a replacement unskilled workforce has enabled them to act unjustly. If they wanted to they could simply dismiss the rebellious workforce and replace it with others. Unions arose to make sure that the little people had a voice. And thats a good thing.
It is not in every sittuation that people are being exploited or victimised. In my opinion they are going to have to work for longer for a smaller pension. Is that the best? No, of course not. But we have a massive deficit and the Government is trying to balance the books. Public sector pay is therefore one area that has come under the microscope.
Given that opposing injustice and exploitation are legitimate reasons for Christians to strike, we need to ask our union representatives why they think were taking industrial action. I would suggest, in the current economic climate, its worth asking whether the strike has more to do with the employment situation or the political situation. Itll be hard to separate the two at times, especially with public sector jobs. But strikes have sometimes been used to challenge a democratically elected Government and not to protect individuals against exploitation. So we mustnt be naive about the possibility of an orchestrated union agenda intended to undermine the current Governments approach to the countrys financial deficit. (I am not taking a political stance here for any party) We may well feel that the depth and rate of the cut in public spending is too deep and too fast. Would we be saying that with a strike?
Whilst the intention of industrial action is always to effect or try to influence the employer, it often ends up being misdirected towards third parties. When the employer is the Government, its the general public that tend to bear the brunt. When its the educators who withdraw their labour, its the kids who miss out. And so its worth asking what the effect of the strike will be on people and how youd explain and justify why youre choosing not to do what you are employed to do. Also am I just striking because my union has instigated a strike, and if so do I understand and agree with the reason. It would be interesting for people to have to justify why theyre going on strike and the implications of their actions. If they dont feel that they can do that, then its worth asking whether its justified!
You need to be convinced that youre striking for reasons of injustice. If you are then go ahead and strike and make sure you can justify your reasons to yourself, employer and third parties who are effected. If youre not convinced theres possibly no value in belonging to a union. A consideration could be made to look for one thats less militant in its approach to industrial action.