Strike. Photo: BBC
Strike. Photo: BBC

Scott Hunter, Swindon Socialist Party

For those who have spent the last year on picket lines, the first episode of the BBC documentary ‘Strike: Inside the Unions’ is a reminder of the scale of events through which we are living. Filled with footage of the last 12 months of action, seeing our struggles rendered in montage really makes it clear that we are living through history. Millions of workers will watch this programme and see themselves reflected in the strike wave; if not on the picket lines, then in the poverty faced by the strikers.

Beginning with the RMT rail strikes, Strike delivers a broadly sympathetic portrayal of the unions and strikers as it follows rail workers, nurses in the RCN, and Abellio bus drivers organised under Unite. Mick Lynch of transport union RMT and Pat Cullen of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) feature most prominently, with Lynch in particular putting across the RMT case with his usual charisma in front of the camera.

Strike largely allows these union leaders to speak for themselves, for better and worse. Lynch and Cullen effectively argue their respective union’s causes, while the programme remains uninterested in criticising these leaderships from the left, or discussing whether their strategies of isolated days or short periods of strike action will be effective in moving the government and employers. It will be interesting to see how the second episode treats the RCN leadership’s backing of the government’s pay offer contrasted with the membership’s vote to reject.

Of course, for socialists a BBC programme is never going to contain the extent of analysis and discussion we are used to seeing in our own publications. Simply seeing a programme that is broadly sympathetic to the unions and strikers is a phenomenon in itself from the traditionally conservative BBC.

The programme is at its most effective when it focuses on the lay members and organisers in the unions. A simple scene in which a nurse stores hot water in a flask, to avoid boiling the kettle multiple times a day, demonstrates in sharp relief why workers everywhere cannot continue to take pay cuts.

Strike won’t move hardened Tories, but the majority of the population – whether they’ve been out on picket lines or not – will find themselves reflected in this lookback on the last 12 months of historic workers’ struggle.