After a year of heightened industrial disputes in the UK, a new BBC documentary has gained access behind the scenes to look at the role of unions in the wave of strikes that have engulfed the UK over the past year.
For the first time in many years, trade unions have opened their doors to the BBC for an unprecedented look at the heart of the disputes.
As nearly 2.5 million working days were lost to strike in the second half of last year, and workers in the health, rail and education sectors continue to stage industrial action, the documentary makers were granted unique access to some of the biggest names involved.
Mick Lynch, Pat Cullen and Sharon Graham – general secretaries respectively of the RMT, the Royal College of Nursing and Unite unions – all feature as viewers get the opportunity to understand the context and decision-making which have led to the largest number of strikes in Britain for decades.
Strike: Inside The Unions
The first episode opens with Lynch addressing a rally outside Parliament saying that the “professional politicians” inside are “scared of us”.
“What they’re scared of is redistribution of wealth and power in this country. There is a change coming. The people are ready for it. We’re gonna stand up as trade unionists, change this country for the better, and we’re gonna win,” he declares to applause.
There are entertaining exchanges between the RMT general secretary, the media and politicians including his comment to Richard Madeley: “Richard, you do come up with some absolute twaddle”.
But the documentary also tells poignant stories of the employees the trade unions represent on the picket lines – from London bus garages to the UK’s first official Amazon strike.
This series starts with the RMT, whose strikes last summer kicked off the current wave of disputes. Going behind the scenes of negotiations between the government, the train operating companies and the union, the episode documents the attempts made to avoid the industrial action that crippled the country over Christmas.
Strike: Inside The Unions also follows the RCN’s Pat Cullen as she takes on the government in a dispute that led to nurses withdrawing their labour for the first time in the union’s 106-year history. The series hears from nurses who say their wages have stagnated for a decade and fear for the future of their profession.
The documentary also gains access to Unite spending time on the picket line of striking London bus drivers whose buses are operated by Abellio – a Dutch-owned company whose drivers said they cannot afford to live on their current wages.
The Unite members were offered a 12% pay rise and a £500 bonus, but after 10 days of strike and the loss of pay they cannot afford, they successfully settled on an 18% increase.
The series also looks at the rise of unionism in the private sector, focusing on the recent industrial action at Amazon’s Coventry depot. The Central Arbitration Committee is currently considering whether the distribution centre’s workers should be formally recognised by Amazon, after more than half of workers joined the GMB union.
Unfortunately for HR professionals, the employers’ side of the disputes is rarely included, with the government, Abellio and Amazon all declining to participate in the programme.
Strike: Inside The Unions begins on BBC2 at 9:00pm tonight and the first of two episodes is now available on iPlayer.
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