Public support for unions rises as 500,000 take strike action

Sympathy for striking public sector workers has risen over the past couple of months.

1 Feb 2023| News

The latest polling suggests that public support for unions and striking workers is increasing, despite an acknowledgement that the action is becoming more disruptive as more unions join transport, health, postal, communications and education workers on the picket line. Today, Wedensday 1st February, a total of 500,000 workers across multiple sectors are taking strike action.

Polling commissioned by Sky News shows that the public increasingly think that trade unions play a positive role in society. A survey of more than 2,000 adults found that 37% support unions, up from 35% in November. 28% said unions play a negative role in society, down from 34% in November.

According to the latest polling, health workers enjoy the most support for their claims and industrial action. As many as 43% of respondents to the survey said they strongly support strike action by nurses, while another 22% said they somewhat support it. Only 31% said they strongly or somewhat oppose industrial action from nurses.

Like most of those who work in the public sector, nurses have experienced a decade of real-term pay cuts. When inflation is taken into account, their pay fell by 7.76% between 2011 and 2020. In the three months to October, average private sector pay growth stood at 6.9%. The figure for the public sector was just 2.7%. Meanwhile inflation was running at around 11%.

In separate polling by IPSOS showed that:

  • Public opinion is split regarding the extent to which they support/oppose multiple public sector unions striking on 1st February, with 40% supporting and 38% opposing
  • 40% think multiple-union strike action is more effective than strikes by individual unions – only 10% think it’s less effective. However 38% also think it will be more personally disruptive.
  • Fewer than 1 in 5 (17%) think the UK government led by Rishi Sunak is doing a good job negotiating with trade unions to prevent strikes, with 31% of Britons expecting a Labour government led by Keir Starmer would do a better job.

New research from IPSOS has found that, though 4 in 5 (80%) continue to think it’s important to have trade unions to protect workers’ interests, opinion is split regarding support for the multiple union strike action taking place on 1 Feb, with 40% in support and 38% opposed. Support is much higher amongst 2019 Labour voters (65%) relative to 2019 Conservative voters (21%).

Just under 1 in 5 (17%) think the UK government led by Rishi Sunak is doing a good job negotiating with trade unions to prevent public sector workers going on strike, with half thinking it is doing a bad job and 1 in 4 neutral. 31% expect a Labour government led by Keir Starmer to do a better job, compared to 23% who say worse and 34% who think it would make no difference.