UK Strikes - A Lesson In Poor Communication

Posted on 4th December, 2011
Earlier this week, many hundreds of thousands of British public sector workers went out on strike.  
Across the UK children weren't educated, trash wasn't collected and hospital patients weren't treated (one of the angles of 'socialised medicine' that wasn't covered during the furious Obama-care debates....)
Naturally, opinion on the merit of the industrial action was sharply divided.  People expressed strong, legitimate views across the full spectrum; me included. But this article isn't about politics, it's about communications.
Because, regardless of one's own views, it is quite clear that a serious communications blunder was made by the orchestrators of the strikes; the public sector unions.
The unions' raison d'etre is to secure the best possible deal that they can for their members. And over the years, they have been hugely successful in advancing workers' rights; with a track record that can boast of paid holiday, minimum hourly wages, maternity provision - the list goes on. 
So with a rich heritage in shifting opinion and debate, one would expect them to know how to position their message for labour relations in 2011. But after this week, if I was a union member, I'd be wanting my subs back. 
Really effective communication is all about empathy; demonstrating it, eliciting it.
Yes, of course, there was some empathy on pensions. But not much: most private sector workers simply cannot identify with the public sector pension entitlement, and vice versa.
Not a good place to be looking for empathy.
Combine this with the fact that - for the first time for a long time - all other issues of concern to public sector workers (low pay, job security, redundancies) are also all issues of enormous concern to private sector workers, and it makes for a very, very odd piece of positioning indeed.
This is the Age of Austerity, whether you're on the government payroll or not. And to this extent, public and private sectors are aligned.  Consider how much positive impact - from a union perspective - could have been brought about by a communications campaign and strike focused on a topic of shared concern. 
Rather than the widespread muttering about 'gold-plated' pensions, strikers' counterparts in the private sector would have expressed a good deal of agreement about the challenges ahead, and the potential policy solutions.
But in drawing private sector attention to generous public sector pension provision, unions have succeeded in scoring an own-goal; a huge misservice to their members.
Not what I'd call great communications. 

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