“Don’t forget children that there won’t be any school tomorrow as the teachers are going on strike,” announced our headmaster. At least I think that’s what she said, I turned off when she said “won’t be any school tomorrow.” It was my first year of primary school and my first taste of a strike. I really had no idea what a strike was. To me, as a young first-grader, strike equalled holiday.
I have the feeling that there are a few thousand children in Croatia who have the same train of thought at the moment. Of course, just as I did, they will soon discover that those strike holidays aren’t really holidays at all as at some point those lost days will have to be made up.
I am not going to comment on the current teacher’s strike in Croatia, I really don’t have enough information to have an opinion. Whether it is right or wrong, or could have been handled differently, I’ll leave you to make your own conclusions. I do however absolutely support their right to take action, in fact anyone’s right to take action and protest. I have to admit I am a little surprised at the weight of support they have had, pleasantly surprised I should add. I didn’t really expect it. In my experience strikes, and indeed demonstrations, in Croatia are rare and usually less than effective. But this one seems to have gathered pace and public support.
And in a strange twist of fate the UK is seeing a similar strike at this very moment, with 40,000 university professors walking out and striking, for pretty much the same reasons as their Croatia educational colleagues. It must be strike season. Strikes aren’t uncommon in the UK, they usually last for a short period of time and are resolved to a degree of mutual satisfaction. In fact, the professors have already announced that they will be on strike for eight days, quite a civilised approach.
They aren’t as common as in France, who are the strike leaders in the EU, whilst the Germans strike the least, presumably due to living in an organised and functioning political system. But on the whole, France excluded, strikes across Europe are becoming fewer and fewer. This is, of course, mainly due to the slow and steady demise of unions. It is estimated that union membership across Europe is down to under ten percent of the workforce. Now being in mind in the 1950’s it was around 40 percent that is quite a slump. A very sad state of affairs. For with the fall in power of unions comes the subsequent decline in the power of workers to unite and to force better working conditions.
And there is another important reason why strikes have dropped, and this is the reason why this current strike in Croatia is vitally important. It is what’s called the demonstration effect. In simple terms this describe the fact that developments in one place will often act as a catalyst in another place. Or if strikes are seen as useless and without reaching any successful outcome then they will become rarer. In many ways this is what happened in the UK after one of the largest strikes in history, the miner’s strike which lasted for a year in the 1980’s, was lost to Margaret Thatcher’s government. Strikes in the UK really haven’t been the same since.
Now as so many people have been mobilized behind this teacher’s strike the outcome could well effect, not only the teacher’s but decades of future actions. For the demonstration effect works both ways. The unions and people will lose hope and on the flip side the government will adopt a stricter approach to policies on strikes. With so many people, so much media and so many protests the success hangs in the balance. And this isn’t just a matter of solving the current problem on the table but could well be a historical moment for the country. If they lose the long-term effects could be significant. “Unions do have a proper role in negotiating for employees and advising employees, but they have to engage with the employer,” once said the British businessman Jim Ratcliffe. Well the teachers are certainly engaging with their employees, the state. Who will prove the more determined?