Just Sociology

Breaking Down Public Sector Strikes: Neoliberalism Marxism and Media Bias

Public sector workers, including teachers, nurses, ambulance workers, and university staff, have increasingly gone on strike in recent years. Reasons for these strikes include fair pay, working conditions, understaffing, and concerns about the quality of public services.

However, the government’s financial constraints and media bias have led to arguments against striking. This article discusses the complex theories surrounding public sector strikes and the neoliberal economic policies that have led to their failure, as well as the relevance of Marxist ideology in understanding the political landscape.

Unions going on strike

Unions have been at the forefront of organizing public sector workers to go on strike. The National Union of Teachers, Royal College of Nursing, Ambulance Workers’ Union, RMT, and other unions have all led strikes in recent years, disrupting travel, health care, and education.

Even postal workers and border force staff have gone on strike to demand better working conditions and fair pay.

Reasons for striking

Public sector workers often go on strike to demand fair pay and better working conditions. The Tories’ austerity policies have led to a real-term pay decrease for public sector workers, with wages not keeping pace with inflation.

This has led to understaffing in many public services, such as the NHS and education, where teachers are overstretched and under-resourced. Furthermore, concerns about the quality of public services have led to strikes in support of better funding.

Private sector workers earn an average of 14% more than their public sector counterparts, leading to accusations of systematic pay discrimination. Arguments have been made that public sector workers are being asked to shoulder the burden of the UK’s financial problems, and this has led to strikes as a means of expressing their dissatisfaction.

Support for strikes

Despite the disruption caused by public sector strikes, they are viewed favorably by many members of the public. Nurses, firefighters, doctors, and teachers are amongst the most trusted professions, and their grievances are seen as legitimate.

A public opinion poll conducted during the teacher strikes of 2018 showed that 58% of members of the public supported their demands for better pay and working conditions.

Arguments against striking

The government’s financial constraints have been cited as a reason why strikes cannot be accommodated, and the media have often presented striking workers in a negative light. However, some have argued that these presentations were unfair, and that the government’s policies have created the conditions under which public sector workers are driven to strike to protect their living standards.

Austerity policies and real-term pay decrease

The Tories’ austerity policies have had a devastating effect on public sector pay, with real-term pay decrease of approximately 20% since 2010. The austerity policies were introduced to address the UK’s budget deficit, but critics argue that it has been an excuse to introduce ideologically driven neoliberal economic policies, at the expense of ordinary hardworking people.

The public sector, which employs a large number of people, has borne the brunt of these cuts, leading to a real-term pay decrease for many public sector workers, and a decline in the quality of public services.

Relevance of Marxism

Marxist economic theory provides a useful framework for understanding the failure of neoliberal economic policies in the UK. According to Marxist economists, the political elite hold power through control of the means of production, and social policy is designed to protect their interests, rather than that of ordinary people.

Neoliberal economic policies have been introduced to protect the interests of the political elite, through the exploitation of workers, and the erosion of public services. Marxism’s critique of capitalism also provides a potential solution, in the form of socialist policies, which would focus on promoting equality, fairness, and the well-being of all people.

Public sector workers have often been at the forefront of demanding such policies, and strikes are a means of expressing their demands for change.

Conclusion

Public sector workers have gone on strike to demand better working conditions, fair pay, and protection of public services. The rise of neoliberal economic policies, particularly austerity measures, has led to a real-term pay decrease for many public sector workers, and a decline in the quality of public services.

Marxist thought provides a useful framework for understanding the political landscape, and provides potential solutions through socialist policies that promote equality, fairness, and the well-being of all people. Expansion: Media Bias Against Strike Action

In recent years, the media has largely been critical of public sector strikes, framing them as a disruption to daily life rather than a legitimate demand for social justice.

Media bias against strike action has often centered on the portrayal of workers’ demands as unreasonable, while portraying the government and business interests as reasonable actors.

Sluggish right-wing-biased media

The media’s representation of striking workers is often influenced by its political leanings. Right-wing media outlets such as the Daily Mail have been known for their biased and negative coverage of strikes.

The Daily Mail has come under fire for publishing misleading reports about public sector strikes in order to smear workers’ demands and garner public opinion against them. For instance, during the 2018 teacher strikes, the Daily Mail published an article claiming that striking teachers were spending their paid-time picketing by writing Christmas cards to their friends and family, using images that were actually taken during a classroom activity related to the season.

This portrayal was used to discredit the strikers and undermine public support for their demands for decent pay and working conditions. To counter this type of media bias, unions and left-wing media outlets have been forced to rely on alternative channels such as social media and independent blogs to get their message across to the public.

Focus on inconvenience rather than social justice

Media coverage of public sector strikes also has tended to focus on the inconvenience caused to the public, rather than the underlying social justice issues driving workers to strike. The narrative is often that striking workers are selfish, putting their own interests ahead of the needs of the larger community.

For instance, during the postal worker strike that took place in the run-up to Christmas in 2019, the focus of the media coverage was on the inconvenience caused to the public rather than the workers’ demands for decent pay and conditions. Mail workers were not striking for fun, but for the right to work in decent conditions, with a living wage that would enable them to support themselves and their families.

By focusing only on the inconvenience to the public, the media failed to give a balanced view of the situation and misrepresented the workers’ demands. Moreover, the portrayal of strikers as troublemakers and selfish individuals puts them at odds with the public opinion, which often tends to be more supportive than most media outlets suggest.

A poll conducted by ComRes for The Mirror newspaper in 2017, for instance, showed that almost half of the public supported the nurses’ four-hour stoppage, with around one third not in opposition. In conclusion, the media’s portrayal of public sector strikes often reflects its ideological biases and its focus on capturing readers’ attention through sensationalism rather than presenting a balanced view of the issues at stake.

By relying on social media and independent media outlets, unions and workers have been able to challenge mainstream narratives and bring attention to their demands. However, the media’s portrayal of striking workers also highlights the need for a more nuanced and comprehensive discussion of the issues that lead workers to strike in the first place, including the impact of neoliberal economic policies on workers’ rights and general social welfare.

Conclusion

Public sector workers have gone on strike to demand better pay, working conditions, and protection of public services. The failure of neoliberal economic policies has led to the real-term pay decrease of public sector workers, while media bias against strikers has skewed the public perception of their demands.

Marxist theory has provided a useful framework for understanding the political economy, and provides potential solutions through socialist policies that promote equality and fairness. A nuanced and comprehensive discussion of the issues can help address the concerns of workers and alleviate the negative impact of neoliberal economic policies on people’s lives.

FAQs

Q: What are public sector workers striking for? A: Public sector workers are striking to demand better pay, working conditions, and protection of public services, such as the NHS and education system.

Q: Why are public sector workers going on strike? A: The public sector workers have gone on strike to express their dissatisfaction with the real-term pay decrease brought about by the Tories’ austerity policies, understaffing in many public services, and concerns about the quality of public services.

Q: Why has the media been biased against striking workers? A: The media’s representation of striking workers is often influenced by its political leanings, such as right-wing media outlets like the Daily Mail, which have been known for their negative portrayal of strikes.

Q: How can Marxist theory provide a useful framework for understanding the political economy? A: Marxist theory provides insights into the exploitation of workers by the political elite and how the erosion of public services and worker’s rights is systematically driven by neoliberal economic policies.

Q: Can socialist policies provide solutions for public sector workers? A: Socialist policies can promote greater equality and fairness, allowing for better pay, improved working conditions, and stronger protection of public services.

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