Support for December rail strikes lower than for October action but public opinion remains divided

Public support for upcoming strikes is lower than previous actions as we approach the festive season

The author(s)
  • Gideon Skinner UK Head of Political Research
  • Laura King Public Affairs
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  • Public opinion on upcoming strikes divided with 30% in support, 36% opposed, and 27% neutral
  • Sympathy remains highest for passengers and workers, but has fallen for both sides involved in the dispute 
  • Support for strikes varies according to profession and is highest for NHS workers, firefighters and teachers

As we reach the festive season, more rail strikes have been announced in the lead up to and over the Christmas period, potentially causing disruption for many. This is reflected in the latest survey from Ipsos, with two-thirds (66%) paying attention to news stories about possible future strikes later in the year by other public sector workers such as teacher or NHS staff and more than half closely following stories about the upcoming rail strikes (54%). 

Public support for the strikes is divided, with 3 in 10 (30%) in support, 36% opposed, and 27% neutral. However, there is less support for the December strikes than we found for the October action earlier this year.  In September, 43% said they supported those upcoming strikes, while 31% were opposed.

Opinion sees little change when the public are given more information about why the strikes are happening. When people are told the planned strikes mean that many services are unlikely to run, but that railway unions are protesting against job cuts, pay freezes and changes to railway workers’ employment terms and conditions, support only increases by 3ppt (33%) while opposition sees no change. 

Looking at where sympathy lies, almost 9 in 10 side with railway passenger (85%) while most also have sympathy with railway workers (61%).  However, railway unions (46%), train companies (33%) and Network Rail (32%) have all seen a drop in the proportion who say they feel either a great deal or fair amount of sympathy for them since September. The UK Government fares worst, only a quarter (26%, also down 6 points) feel sympathy for it while two-thirds (65%) do not. 

Of course, it is not only the railway workers who are striking, we see some professions who might be considering (or already carried out) strikes receive more support than others. NHS workers such as nurses are most likely to be supported by the public (52%), however support has fallen by 8ppt since September, as it has for a number of other sectors.  Firefighters (46% support), teachers (42%), postal workers (40%) and refuse collectors/street cleaners (39%) are among the professions planning to strike that receive more support than opposition. 

Those most likely to see opposition to strikes are barristers working on criminal cases (38% oppose, 25% support) and civil servants (37% oppose, 27% support).

The role of trade unions

Just over a third believe trade unions have too much power in Britain today (35%), seeing little change since September (34%), while 3 in 10 (29%) say they have the right amount and 1 in 5 too little (19%). The same proportion, 34%, say employers have too much power while only 8% say the same for workers. Almost half say workers have too little power, down from 58% in September and 61% in June. 

The need to have trade unions is widely recognised, with 4 in 5 believing it is very or fairly important to have trade unions to protect workers’ interests (79%), falling marginally from 83% in September and 85% in June. Only 13% say it is not important to have these protective measures in place. 

Gideon Skinner, Head of Political Research at Ipsos, said:

Public opinion is divided over the upcoming rail strikes, but it does seem that the prospect of another set of action over the Christmas period is dampening down levels of public support from earlier in the year. Public concern remains highest for rail passengers who have to suffer the disruption – but most also have sympathy for rail workers too given the tough economic conditions and concern over the cost of living, and this applies to some other public sector workers, particularly in the NHS.  The potential for a wave of industrial action is hardly greeted with enthusiasm by Britons, and sympathy for the rail unions has dipped, but it is the UK Government that receives least sympathy of all.

Technical note:

  • Ipsos interviewed a representative quota sample of 1,075 adults aged 18-75 in Great Britain. Interviews took place on the online Omnibus 7th-9th December 2022. Data has been weighted to the known offline population proportions. All polls are subject to a wide range of potential sources of error.
The author(s)
  • Gideon Skinner UK Head of Political Research
  • Laura King Public Affairs

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