On Wednesday, 1 February, the National Education Union staged the first of three planned days of strike action. 23,000 schools across England were affected, and over half of state-funded schools in England were at least partially closed. Teachers plan to return to the picket line on the 15 and 16 March.
Research from Redfield & Wilton Strategies finds that a plurality of Britons supports the teachers going on strike. In fact, our polling finds that support has held steady and may have even slightly increased since the first day of strike action took place.
In polling conducted last week, 44% said they supported the teachers’ strikes, against 30% who said they opposed the strikes. This latest result represents a slight increase in support from the 39% who said they supported striking teachers back in January, shortly before the first teachers’ strike. At that time, 32% opposed the strike.
We find that, as before, 2019 Labour voters are more than twice as likely to support the strike action (66%) than Conservative voters (30%). Meanwhile, a plurality of Conservative voters (46%) say they oppose the upcoming strike.
Britons’ plurality support for strike action by teachers reflects their support for industrial action generally. For instance, 47% also say they support and 25% say they oppose the upcoming junior doctors’ strike due to take place in March. Similarly, 48% say they support the upcoming ambulance drivers’ strikes, which 27% say they oppose. More importantly, this support has remained stable, even as strikes have caused disruption.
Amidst the current debate over strikes staged by public sector workers, the government has threatened to force strikers to ensure a minimum level of service on strike days.
In an earlier poll conducted in February, 61% said they agreed that unions representing workers in frontline industries should be forced to guarantee a ‘minimum service level’ during strike action, whilst a smaller 15% of people disagreed. When asked specifically about teachers, a majority (60%) believed this mandate requiring minimum service levels in the public sector should apply to teachers, too. Compared to other workers, a slightly higher number of people (27%) believe that teachers should not be required to provide a minimum level of service during their strike action.
However, if legislation is implemented mandating minimum service levels, the likely enforcement mechanism of such a policy does not currently have widespread support. When asked yes or no, 47% of Britons say no, workers who refuse to provide a ‘minimum service level’ during strikes should not be sacked, while 29% say yes, they should. Although the public largely support a minimum level of service, they do not feel specific workers who refuse to work in such a scenario should be sacked to that end.
Amidst other strike actions taking place across the UK and the persistent cost-of-living crisis, the ongoing teacher action provides yet another headache for Rishi Sunak and his government. 43% disagree that the UK Government is addressing the strikes going on across the country with urgency. 30% of people agree.
This widespread belief that the Prime Minister has not been involved in resolving such disputes may explain, in part, the continued, steady support for various strike action, in addition to the increase in Labour’s lead in voting intention polling thus far this year.