Computer Workers Strike in England

5,000 computer workers throughout England have been on strike since mid-March. They are striking on behalf of the entire 530,000 civil servants in England, all of whom are represented by the Council of Civil Servant Unions. The 525,000 nonstriking civil servants are each paying about $2.10 a week so that the 5,000 strikers can be paid 85% of their usual salary without resorting to the unions' strike funds.

The striking computer workers have made a shambles of England's revenue collections, interfered with defense operations, and brought routine purchasing and some cash disbursements to a halt. The strike is blocking between 25% and 45% of the total tax revenues the British government gets from Value-Added tax and income tax. This is forcing the government to increase borrowing, 2.5 times more this April than last (which in turn is damaging prime minister Thatcher's monetarist policies, in order to continue most of its operations.

To combat the strike the British government has asked big taxpayers to send their checks through commercial banks. Computer workers at the banks, however, have refused to handle those checks. Other computer owners, worried about the strength and solidarity of British computer workers, are contemplating processing their information via satellite in countries where computer workers aren't unionized.

Another strategy of computer owners is to undercut potential collective action by computer workers through increasing the use of decentralized minicomputers. An industry trade association leader in England, quoted in the Wall Street Journal, said "Big companies are already turning down mainframe computers on industrial-relations grounds. I advise getting into small computers. An Apple® a day, I say, keeps the union away."

The strike has been largely ignored by the U.S. press, so information is spotty and incomplete. The relationship between the strikers, the unions, and management (the British government) is unknown to us—perhaps a British reader of Processed World will write something about it for us? from Business Week 3/23/81, and Wall Street Journal 5/19/81.