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Strikes: What do they mean for the future?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at St. Andrews chapter.

Since December 2022, there seem to have been more strikes than ever before. Some professions are doing so for the first time – the Royal College of Nursing, for example, staged its first national strikes in its 106-year history on 15 and 20 December. Likewise, Amazon staff in the UK walked out of the warehouse in Coventry for the first time this Wednesday, 25 January. Nurses and Amazon workers are just to name a few. University staff, railway workers, and airline staff are among those who are demanding better pay as well as better conditions.

At a Christmas party last year, I was enjoying a glass of mulled wine when I heard train drivers labelled ‘greedy’ for wanting an increase in salary. According to the recruitment company Reed, the average salary for train drivers in the UK is £48,500 per year. Not an indecent sum, but Unions say pay offers should reflect the rising cost of living. The disputes also relate to working conditions. Whereas one might expect the driver’s job to be purely this, driving, cutbacks in rail staff mean drivers are sometimes responsible for guarding the train as well.

A Twitter thread from December highlighted the problems in these conditions. A passenger fell ill on a train and required immediate medical attention. With no mobile phone signal, the driver had to change routes in order to get to a hospital as quickly as possible. Fortunately, a guard was there and was thus able to coordinate between the driver and the passengers, one of whom was a doctor and was able to ascertain the attention required by the ill passenger. The driver was able to focus solely on securing a safe route for the train. The thread ended, ‘Let the driver manage the train and the guard manage the passengers.’

Not only does this example show the huge extra workload dumped on drivers when their jobs require multitasking, this example also demonstrates the dangers of such working conditions.

These dangers can be seen in other professions which are taking strike action, such as paramedics. In another Twitter thread, a paramedic explained her reasoning for striking. She worked 4×12 shifts in one week, spent 18 hours queuing at hospitals, and was 3.5 hours late off a 12 hour shift, an example of overworking which could be dangerous to her health. 

She further explained, ‘None of us want any harm to come to our patients, but it already is.’ This is a valid point. Health services will be limited on strike days, but even on working days emergency responses are delayed. In December, Category 2 calls (for emergencies like heart attacks and strokes) had an average of 1 hour 32 minutes and 54 seconds, with the target being 18 minutes. Why? Demand has increased and NHS funding has not matched it. What’s more, doctors and nurses training now face huge debts as well as faults in the pension scheme, leading many to go private. If nothing changes, we could be facing the privatisation of the entire health service. Just recently, Sajid David called for the public to register with a private GP to reduce the strain on the NHS. The strikes are indirectly seeking to prevent this need, aiming for the government to invest more in the health service. This will ultimately benefit the general public as well as the workers themselves.

The theme of inappropriate working conditions is also relevant to University strikes. Between February and March this year, there will be 18 days of UCU strikes. These strikes again link to pay, pensions and workloads, with some staff claiming to be doing hours of unpaid work. Of course, the circumstances are inconvenient for students, but they are likewise problematic for the staff on strike. Staff striking is doing so for their own futures, but also for the futures of others who may enter the world of academia, a profession which is obviously of interest to many students. 

The seemingly never ending strikes remain a controversial topic. I am aware that I have used a lot of personal anecdotes from social media here, but I think it is important that we listen to workers on strike, and their reasons for doing so. If nothing changes, we could see a further increase in burnout, as workers are expected to take on more responsibilities than they initially signed up for. This isn’t good for the health of the workers, nor is it good for the rest of the population. Strikes are inconvenient (although I would point out this is their intention), and many claim that they are unproductive. This remains to be seen, but we have to acknowledge that if people are dissatisfied with their working conditions, they have every right to demonstrate this and request better. They are doing so not only for their own careers but also those of future professionals, as well as for the wellbeing of the general public.

Emma Gatrell

St. Andrews '24

Hi, I'm Emma! I'm studying History at St Andrews. Things I love include good books, cats, and drinking lots of tea.