Today, University of Kent staff have been left fuming after the university has confirmed it will dock wages for anyone taking part in industrial action.
In other words, workers are unhappy they won’t be paid for, erm, not working. It would appear to be a curious state of affairs.
After all, staff at the east Kent hospitals trust who staged half-day walk-outs in recent years were not in any doubt that they were sacrificing half a day’s pay.
The miners who went on strike in 1984-5 didn’t get paid and had to rely on their wives and girlfriends to live.
But the miners, like the east Kent health workers, wanted to make a point.
So let’s get one thing straight. Strikes are sometimes necessary. As a whole, they often do more harm than good, but historically they have addressed imbalances of power between management and the workforce, and played their part in resolving industrial disputes.
But let’s look at what happens when workers strike.
Let’s say a group of factory workers complain to management that operating the machinery is dangerous, and they aren’t being provided with suitable safety equipment.
Management refuses to provide the safety equipment so the workers threaten to stop work until they do.
“A-ha!” says management, “but we pay your wages. If you don’t work, we won’t pay you.”
Then begins a standoff. The workers go without pay, but the factory shuts down with nobody to operate the machines. With no production taking place neither the workers or the factory are making any money.
The strike action is resolved when both parties find a compromise to sort out their differences so work can begin again. The longer they wait, the more both sides lose.
So is it a surprise that university staff are likely to lose pay if they refuse to work?
While this writer sympathises with their plight, especially in the light of record bumper salaries for chancellors, surely we can’t live in a society where we expect to be paid even when we refuse to work?