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17 January 2023

Majority of Britons oppose workers earning over £50,000 going on strike

New polling reveals public sympathy for industrial action is influenced by salary levels.

By Anoosh Chakelian

As teachers in England and Wales vote to join the many other workers striking across the UK, all eyes are on the direction of public sympathy.

While nurses and other NHS workers appear to have won the public relations war, train drivers elicit less sympathy for their cause from the British public. Almost two thirds (63 per cent) of the public support nurses going on strike, according to YouGov, while just over half (51 per cent) do not support rail workers going on strike.

Teachers so far appear to have public support, though it’s not resounding. Half (51 per cent) back teachers’ strikes, whereas two in five (41 per cent) oppose them, finds YouGov.

[See also: The biggest myths about this week’s strikes in the UK]

Why do attitudes differ towards each sector? The implication is that the British public does not back strikes in principle, but is rather influenced by the lot of workers in individual industries. As I’ve written previously, this likely comes down to how inconvenienced people are personally by strikes, whether they view the jobs under scrutiny as something they could or couldn’t do themselves, and perceptions of pay – workers seen as better-paid garner less support for walking out.

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[See also: What are the salaries of workers going on strike in the UK?]

Exclusive polling for the New Statesman by Redfield & Wilton Strategies bears out the latter. It reveals that a majority of British voters surveyed, at 52 per cent, would oppose those earning a salary of over £50,000 going on strike, while almost two thirds (63 per cent) would support those earning between £10,000 and £24,999 going on strike.

Charts by Katharine Swindells

People who voted Labour in the 2019 general election are more likely than Conservative supporters to back higher-paid strikers, but even then that drops off at the £50,000 mark.

The average salary in the UK is £33,000. Our polling therefore suggests British voters believe it’s legitimate for workers earning quite significantly above the average (up to £50,000) to go on strike. The salaries of striking workers – and those considering strike action – perhaps give an indication of where public opinion will lean.

What are the salaries of workers going on strike in the UK?

Paramedic: £27,055 (starting salary)
Nurse: £27,055 (starting salary)
Rail worker: £33,000 (average salary, according to the RMT rail union); £39,518 (average salary, excluding cleaners, according to the Office for National Statistics)
Train driver: £24,000 (starting salary)
Bus driver: £18,000 (starting salary)
Border Force officer: £21,431 (starting salary)
Royal Mail postie: £16,000 (starting salary, according to the government website); £24,190 (according to the Royal Mail)
Teacher: £25,714 (starting salary, for those who started 1 September 2021-31 August 2022); £28,000 (starting salary, for 1 September 2022-present)
Junior doctor: 29,384 (starting salary in England)

Redfield & Wilton Strategies polled a weighted sample of 1,500 eligible voters in Great Britain on 11 January 2023 for the New Statesman.

[See also: Mick Lynch: Government has “a Stalinist obsession” over strike negotiations]

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