An interesting piece on the historical reasons for allowing strikes which stirred the former economics student in me. When a firm was a monopsonist (i.e. the sole buyer of labour), unions enabled a workforce to gain monopoly power and counteract the power of monopoly firms. In an age where labour is more flexible, employers more numerous (i.e. there’s not just one mill in your area) and monopolies are dealt with by market forces and regulation, it’s really only in some pure public sector sectors where they’re relevant anymore (e.g. trains, publicly-employed nurses etc).
Tiny by the standards of the past it might be, but strikes are still jolly annoying when they happen. Folk ask: “Why is this allowed?” The stock answer offered – that there is some kind of intrinsic “right to withhold labour” is plain wrong. There is not, and never has been any “right to withhold labour” in the UK. If you decide not to turn up to work tomorrow, then unless you’ve arranged leave you are in breach of contract. If you incite a couple of mates to bunk off with you that’s called a “wildcat strike” and you can be prosecuted. The “right to strike” is simply a myth. All that’s ever existed in the UK is a protection for unions from being sued if they incite their members to breach their contracts by not turning up for work.