Strike! – Negotiate!

Strike! – Negotiate!

by Fiona Colquhoun, Director, CEDR

Another strike, this time with BAA, appears to be on its way. This strike is about pay and annual pay demands, not the other hot potato of the moment – pensions, which is what the impending BBC staff action due for 9 September is about.

The BAA and BBC strikes, along with BA, Royal Mail, the railways, etc, are all recent but appear anachronistic for our time – with “them and us” adversarial positioning regarding strike action – the ultimate threat of withdrawal of labour. In 2010, in an economic downturn, can such a standoff between union and management really be the most effective way to move a negotiation forward?

From one point of view you might say yes, as Bernie Mayer argues in his 2004 book “Beyond Neutrality”, putting your case forcefully has the potential to educate the other side more quickly and completely. However this is an age when two parliamentary parties have been able to create a coalition, many people (largely in the private sector) have already compromised on their pensions in line with economic and demographic realities and whilst over 6.5 million employees are members of unions, many more in work are not. So something about going through the same motions of calling a strike, when there are so many sophisticated and successful negotiation processes in modern business life, seems out of touch.

We know these are not straightforward conversations. At the BBC those who have worked for decades in the knowledge that their retirement would be funded at an agreed level may understandably feel threatened and betrayed, yet on the other hand you have a publicly funded corporation realising, albeit late in the day when compared with the private sector, that the licence payer will not fund its £2 billion pension deficit. These are tricky and important negotiations, with much at stake.

So should those responsible for resolving disputes explore new approaches to negotiating industrial relations rather than having to relive the same scenarios played out year after year and decade after decade? Can we look for new solutions to help in the BAA and BBC disputes? Having helped many individuals and organisations in dispute find their own resolutions, CEDR thinks, probably not alone, that we can.

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