If you went by what the media generally reports, you would think that unions are all about strikes. The rail unions, in particular, whether it’s Aslef on the Southern Service or the RMT and TSSA on the Tube, are currently in news because of their strikes. Even doctors in the BMA were on strike last year.
The reality is that unions are about a lot more than just strikes, but the other things they do are somewhat less newsworthy. The Trade Union Congress has 50 member unions, including the NUJ, and represents almost 5.6 million workers. Non-TUC unions accounted for around 700,000 more members in 2015, bringing the overall figure to over 6 million.
Only a fraction of those union members have been on strike in recent years. In fact, the number of strikes in 2015 was the second-lowest annual total since records began in 1891 according to the Office for National Statistics.
Nearly every working day, union members somewhere in the UK are negotiating with their employers. Whether it’s bargaining for better pay, improving health and safety, defending their members jobs, unions do this all the time and usually do not need to go on strike.
Strikes happen when this breaks down – when bosses refuse to negotiate, when they impose changes and job cuts on their staff without proper agreement. Strikes are about improving or defending the terms and conditions of union members.
There are some unions that never strike, but the NUJ is not one of them. In recent years, NUJ members from a variety of workplaces, from the huge BBC to tiny local newspapers, have stopped working to fight against redundancies or for better terms and conditions. In October 2016, it was journalists working for Newsquest in South London.
The important thing to remember is that, as an NUJ member, it is you and your colleagues who decide if you want to strike. The NUJ will support you if you do, but the union will never force you to take strike action. The NUJ is a member-led organisation and is there to advise and support you.