Magnum on the Central Line

Striking the right balance between workers’ rights and business interests

If you’re in London, keep your eyes peeled for a tube carriage covered in Magnum advertising. It’s the latest method of celebrating the Magnum ice cream brand’s 25th birthday, which I feel like I’ve been celebrating with gusto since Christmas.

The new campaign from Unilever UK will run until the end of July, and I can only imagine how relieved the company is that the recent London Underground strikes have been settled.

The recent strike action by RMT union members was because of potential ticket office closures across the London Underground network. I read today that Londoners have supported calls to ban strikes unless more than half the workforce votes for them. This suggests that RMT and other unions have lost public support for industrial action, especially where it concerns public amenities such as public transport.

It made me think of recent examples of strike action in the food and drink industries, such as low paid workers at Greencore last year, and employees at Molson Coors in the UK.

Union members often achieve public support for strike action when it looks like workers are being poorly paid or are mistreated. When it comes to strike action affecting something we use every day, such as trains, buses and planes, opinions dramatically change.

It seems to be a constant battle between protecting workers’ rights and moving forward as a business. Managers at McVities Cake Company, for instance, recently argued their case for changing workers’ shift patterns at a factory in Halifax to ‘secure future production volumes and cut costs’. It was a move that looked, on the face of it, an attempt to protect the company from suffering business losses, but at the expense of salaries and some permanent jobs.

It’s difficult to side with one party or the other sometimes, as I’m empathetic to workers’ rights, yet I understand how businesses often need to make difficult decisions to look after its own interests.

How did the tube strike affect you? Do you buy tickets via the internet, through a ticket machine or via a ticket office? Do you buy Coca-Cola at your local newsagent or from a vending machine? What’s your stance on keeping things ‘human’ vs automated?

Enjoy your ice cream while you’re thinking about it.