Pickets mean prizes, but in 2022 solidarity is the winner – the growth of strike action and Strike Map


“These large-scale strikes are not just part of a reaction to the economic situation facing the country, but are part of a wider awakening of the working class, who are taking action, winning huge pay rises, and building a stronger movement.”

By Henry Fowler and Robert Poole, co-founders of Strike Map

It’s safe to say 2022 has been the year of the strike. For the first time in over a decade, mass strikes by professions all over our economy are growing, with many big public sector unions still balloting their members. 

Employers and government have together offered pay cuts, as a crippling cost-of-living crisis – fuelled by inflation – continues to drive many into poverty and financial difficulty. This has been met by strong resistance from organised labour. Unions, led by their members have undertaken impressive ballot campaigns, smashing anti trade union thresholds to take prolonged periods of action. 

These large-scale strikes are not just part of a reaction to the economic situation facing the country, but are part of a wider awakening of the working class, who are taking action, winning huge pay rises, and building a stronger movement. Government benches at Westminster are terrified of the growing action being taken and as a result are looking to further tighten what the incoming Trades Union Congress (TUC) General Secretary, Paul Nowak, has described as the “most restrictive trade union laws in western Europe”

Rewind two years ago and the nation was gripped by the Covid pandemic. Furlough and government-backed schemes became the norm and both employers and government were going to be faced with an increase in public spending and a potential reduction in profits. Historically, as is always the case, cuts and austerity fall onto the backs of workers and therefore conflict between capital and labour is inevitable. 

That is why we launched Strike Map (formerly Strike Map UK) with three clear objectives: document and present the levels of strike action in the country, enable others to see the levels of action and pass on messages of solidarity, encourage other workers in their struggles, and we later added bring those leading struggles together through a network. These have guided our work and the development of the site and the huge supporters & volunteers network, which keep our project going.

Below is an assessment of our work in our first two years, measured against our aims. We will let the reader decide what they think of our progress to date. 

Aim 1: Document and present the levels of strike action in the country

Over the past two years we have now mapped over 7,000 strikes. No doubt we have missed some, but slowly through our amazing relationships with rank and file union stewards, branch officers and sympathetic leaderships, we have become a place to see the levels of action. We think that Strike Map has become a legitimately useful tool of our movement and beyond.

During both the nurses and paramedic strikes days the Daily Mirror embedded our map in their website, to show where to visit a picket line and also explain to readers which trusts were affected by action. This followed several articles by the Financial Times, that used our data, collected by our amazing volunteer team, as Strike Map has become the go to place for the collation of information relating to industrial action. 

Aim 2: Enable others to see the levels of action and pass on messages of solidarity

Through various rebuilds of our site, we have created many ways for workers to share solidarity with others. We have the ability for people to share their solidarity wishes with their local strike on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, as well as email the local branch their solidarity or share it amongst their WhatsApp networks.

As we moved from the pandemic and solely ‘digi solidarity actions’, we launched one of our most successful actions to coincide with May day 2022, visit a picket. Over 2,500 people have signed up to the campaign, which in response to filling out a simple online form, people receive details of their nearest picket line. 

To coincide with our second birthday, we wanted to develop our picket visits further, and we launched our visit a picket loyalty card scheme. This scheme aims to encourage as many people as possible to visit different union picket lines. In exchange for updating their progress online, those part of the scheme win prizes for pickets, including a name on our wall of fame, a pin badge and a t-shirt. It was this scheme that led to Strike Map being the front page of this week’s Daily Mail, a front page that was the culmination of Tory politicians and media outlets who are losing the public argument on strikes and growing social crisis. This was best shown in the recent YouGov tracking poll, which showed the growing positive view of the public towards groups of workers taking strike action. 

Aim 3: Encourage other workers in their struggles

Solidarity is important but encouraging other workers in struggle is vital. As part of the growth of our site, in October we launched our Strike Clubs. These regional networks, mainly through WhatsApp groups at the present time, help link like-minded people together to meet and plan visit pickets together using Strike Map. These clubs have become a large unofficial network for updates to our map, sharing of the huge number of successful wins of workers that have taken action, and a place to share pictures/videos/stories from the picket line. 

As we celebrated our second birthday, just before Christmas, we announced an important re-brand and expansion. We would no longer be called “Strike Map UK ” and instead “Strike Map”, this exciting new rebrand was part of the start of the expansion of our map. Starting with ensuring we publicise and support strikes from across the whole island of Ireland, Strike Map will now look to support the workers movement across the globe. This first expansion will mean our organisation of volunteers and activists will seek to build solidarity across these islands (Britain and Ireland). 

This year’s The World Transformed was a special one for us, alongside the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) and Notes from below (ASLEF have subsequently pledged support for the project), Strike Map launched Organise Now! Modelled on the very successful Emergency Workplace Organising Committee (EWOC), Organise Now is a peer-to-peer organising network which supports workers that want to organise a union at work, or ‘kick- start’ their existing union at work. Within 72 hours, those workers who complete an online form are directly connected with our coach volunteers. These workers gain valuable advice, and are able utilise the incredible experience of shop stewards, reps and others from our movement. Although early days, we have recruited a large number of volunteers and workers are regularly signing up for support. Our aim is to help build the trade union movement, which despite all the headlines still only has 23 per cent of workers in it. We have even had several early success stories, showing the potential of this work.

Aim 4: Bring those leading struggles together through a network.

Our final aim was to try and build networks for those taking action to speak together, cross-union, cross-sector, rebuilding the rank and file networks of our past. That is why in June we hosted a meeting open to workplace reps, stewards and branch officers from across the movement. The meeting allowed those who have led successful action to share advice, tips and experiences from these difficult disputes with others. The meeting led to the launch of our network, with hundreds of reps, stewards and strike leaders signing up. 

This network has become the backbone of the Organise Now project, discussed above, but as we move into our third year we will need to double down our efforts in building a vibrant network of trade unionists who can together lead the renewal of our movement. 

It is fair to say it has been an extremely busy first two years for Strike Map, driven by the rise in confidence amongst the working class and the rise of struggle in our movement.

We think that on the whole we have remained true to our aims above, and still think there is a lot more we can achieve in the future. 2023 looks like it could be an exciting period as the potential for coordinated action on a scale not seen since the 2011 public sector pension strikes.

We face a social, political and economic crisis, and whilst putting Strike Map on your front page and attempting to reduce the work of our volunteers and supporters to the usual status of ‘loony lefty activists’ may seem like a good idea, it is clear that the support and solidarity for workers taking action is on the increase. These attacks will only grow over the coming months, as this Government is desperate to distract from its own failure.

Workers united, will never be defeated. Happy New Year to you all. 

Featured image: Nurses strike in December ’22. Photo credit Labour Outlook Archive

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