19/12/2016 13:42 GMT

Strikes This Year Are Nothing Like Industrial Action Of 1980s, Official Figures Show

Most peaceful year in 1980s saw six times more days lost to industrial action than 2016.

Thousands of Brits face a miserable run-up to Christmas thanks to a series of strikes in the post, airline and rail industries.

Southern Rail staff, Post Office workers, Argos delivery drivers, airport baggage ­handlers and cabin crew are among those braced for walk outs this week.

“Militant” trade unions have come under fire for co-ordinating the strikes to apparently embarrass the Government, with Sean Hoyle, boss of the RMT union behind the Christmas rail strikes, reportedly claiming the industrial action had been coordinated to “bring down this bloody working-class-hating Tory government”, according to The Sunday Times. Others deny a “Trotskyist conspiracy”.

Neil Hall / Reuters
Passengers queue for a reduced during the Southern railway strike at Victoria station in London.

The wave of strikes has prompted commentators to draw parallels to the infamous industrial face-offs previous decades. The Sun newspaper railed against “power-mad union leaders grinding the country to a halt”, arguing that this is “one 1980s Christmas repeat Britain doesn’t need”.

The City A.M. newspaper this morning reported that the number of days lost to industrial action so far this year has already outstripped the total in 2015.

It cites Office of National Statistics (ONS) data showing that 281,000 days have been lost to strike action to October 31 this year - compared to 170,000 days last year.

But the impact of strikes in 2016 - and every year in the past decade - pales compared to the 1980s. In fact, the most peaceful year in the 1980s saw six times more days lost to industrial action than in 2016. According to the ONS:

1984 - 27.1 million days lost.

The year of the miners’ strike where the Arthur Scargill-led National Union of Mineworkers went toe-to-toe with the state-run National Coal Board and Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. The calmest year for industrial relations in the 1980s was 1.9 million days lost in 1986.


1979 - 29.5 million days lost.

The “winter of discontent”, straddling the previous year, later saw tens of thousands of public sector workers taking part in the biggest day of action since 1926.

Hospital workers, rubbish collectors, school caretakers, grave diggers and airport staff were all involved in stoppages as the four major public service unions lined up protests to the Government’s attempt to impose a 5% pay ceiling.

PA/PA Archive
Mountains of rubbish dumped in Leicester Square due to the continuing strike by dustbin collectors from the City of Westminster in support of a pay claim.

1926 - 162 million days lost.

Ten days long, Britain’s first and only General Strike began on May 3 1926. Some 1.7 million workers went out, chiefly in transport and heavy industry. 

Central Press via Getty Images
Civilians volunteering to be drivers during the General Strike.

2011 - 1.4 million days.

The 170,000 days lost last year was the lowest total in in the decade, with revolts during the Tory-Lib Dem administration having a bigger impact. In 2014, 788,000 days were lost - more than double this year so far.

Striking public sector workers and their supporters hold placards as they take part in a march in 2011.

2002 - 1.3 million days lost.

Even in the Tony Blair-led Labour years industrial strife was more significant than now. In 2002, the Fire Brigades’ Union led the first nationwide firefighters’ strike since the 1970s over pay.

Michael Stephens/PA Archive
Firefighters march to Trafalgar Square, London, for a rally to demand a pay increase in 2003.