Thursday, March 26, 2009

In praise of strikes

I was just reading about how the 1911 railways strike boosted the use of motor cars, people used them to go holiday for the first time. Railway use continued to rise but its monopoly was broken and the motor car had begun its climb to prominence.

And it struck me how strikes have sometimes acted as a boost to progress, accelerating a change in technology, normally to the detriment of the strikers themselves but to the benefit of society more broadly.

I can remember the year I bought my first fax machine, 1987. Before then, you couldn't depend on another business having one, so getting one myself wasn't a priority. But then came the great postal strike and everyone just bought a fax machine. The Royal Mail has never recovered, of course.

The Miners' Strike in the mid 1980s helped to change forever the way energy is generated in this country. I expect that if you analyse the effects of most major industrial disputes you'll find a similar piece of foot-shooting.

There is something deeply strange about the Trades Union movement; not even the Luddites smashed the machines they themselves depended on for work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"There is something deeply strange about the Trades Union movement": one of the things I've always found strangest is the way that journalists used to assert that Trades Unionism was somehow more natural in heavy industry without explaining why. A major cause was that it was easier to police the Union monopoly in an industry where it was easy to maim or kill a worker and pass it off as an industrial accident.