The record-low number of strikes in 2010 is in part a reflection of the UK’s shift away from a mass-labour economy, with fewer people being employed in large-scale white-collar unionised workplaces. Strike activity in the mining and manufacturing sectors has dropped off sharply, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. Working days lost per 1,000 employees were close to zero in these industries in 2009 and 2010.
The service sector now has the highest rate of strikes at 16 days lost per 1,000 people employed. This is mostly due to a handful of high-profile strike days in the public sector and by transport workers. Just over half the strikes measured occurred in the public sector, yet they accounted for nearly three-quarters of the total days lost to strike action. In particular, six stoppages lasting for three days each accounted for 71 percent of the total working days lost to strikes in 2010. This is because the strikes were so large – involving 91,800 workers in total.
But it is a long way from the industrial unrest of the 1970s, when 12.9 million days were lost on average each year. Some 132,500 workers were involved in labour disputes in 2010, compared to an annual average of 1 million in the 1980s.