Prison officers strike in England and Wales, 2007

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Timing
Time Period:  
August 16,
2007
to
August 30,
2007
Location and Goals
Country: 
England
Country: 
Wales
Country: 
United Kingdom
Goals: 
The strike was done to protest harsh working conditions, to gain the right to strike, and to settle a pay dispute.
 

In 1996, there were 204 reported attacks on prison staff in English prisons. Ten years later, the number of attacks soared to 1,050 attacks. After a 400% increase in attacks, prison officers were more than outraged with their apparently dangerous working conditions.

Working conditions only amplified the resentment that members of the prison union, the Prison Officer Association (POA), were feeling towards their government. In 2007, the English government offered the POA a new 2.5% increase in salary that was to occur in two installments; 1.5% would have been rewarded in April and another 1% would have been rewarded in October. According to the POA, the separation of the increase into two installments actually resulted in an increase of 1.9%, not the 2.5% stated by the government.

As a result of the poor working conditions and the insufficient salary increase, the POA held a ballot to decide whether or not its members would go on strike to promote improved working conditions and salaries. On August 16, internal reports from the POA suggested that 90% of its 28,000 members voted in favor of the union.

The information regarding the union’s vote was publicized in several newspapers and many speculated different dates for when the strike would occur. One such newspaper reported that 10,000 workers were planning to go on strike on August 31. In fact, 20,000 prison officers from 129 prisons walked out at 7 a.m. on August 27. The strike saw participation from prisons in England and Wales.

There were over 80,000 prisoners inhabiting the 129 prisons that were impacted by the strike. Without prison staff, these 80,000 prisoners were confined to their cells. Furthermore, newly processed prisoners could not be delivered to the prisons, court hearings had to be postponed, and visitors were told to turn around and leave. A later investigation also revealed that at one particular prison, a Merseyside prison in Liverpool, nurses were forced to remain in the prison while the strike persisted. A source from within the same prison alleged that the nurses were told to “act as wardens.”

12 hours into the strike, a court injunction ordered the prison officers to return to work or suffer heavy fines. The call to return to work was largely ignored as most were determined to make the strike last 24 hours. The injunction was made because the prison officers were actually breaking the law by going on strike. Previously, in 1993, the Conservative government had passed a law that prohibited the prison officers from going on strike. The POA was aware of the law, and another goal of the campaign had been to gain the right to strike. Ironically, in Cardiff, Wales, inmates taunted the prison staff by shouting to them, “you’re breaking the law.”

The POA ordered all its workers to return to work at 7.a.m the next day, exactly 24 hours after the strike had begun. This marked the end of the campaign. English Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, called the strike, “deeply regrettable and wholly unjustifiable.” He attributed the conclusion of the strike to the government’s swift action, but the campaign attributed the conclusion of the strike to the government’s promise of upcoming negotiations. According to POA chairman Colin Moses, “The executive has decided in light of the offer of meaningful discussions on Friday regarding the staging of pay, to lead our members back to work, irrespective of the threat of an injunction.”

The following month would be largely unproductive for the POA’s efforts. On September 1, the government announced that all the prison workers who worked while their coworkers were striking would receive a bonus. The POA considered the action to be an insult. Talks remained unproductive and on September 13, the POA criticized the Labour government for not supporting the right to strike that many unions possess.

On a positive note, the POA did receive some constructive press coverage when former inmate John Cox endorsed the POA’s efforts and told the media that guards always did “a good job under difficult circumstances.”

On January 8, 2008, Jack Straw revealed his plans to propose a new law in May, banning the prison guards from. The law that was broken by the POA was a voluntary agreement that was legally binding. The new law would not be voluntary, but mandatory. The next day, the POA won a small victory when Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary for Scotland, announced that Scotland would not pass a similar law. Another potential victory arose in February when Straw offered the POA a salary increase of 2.2% instead of the 1.9% increase from 2007. In response to the offer, the POA held another ballot and on March 6, it announced that 85% of its members voted against accepting the offer.

After rejecting the government’s offer, the remaining interactions between the POA and the government would accomplish nothing. On May 9, the government officially passed the law banning the prison officers from striking. The ruling solidified the government’s view on the issue and ended any hopes for fruitful discussions. Other than an inadvertent success in Scotland, the campaign was a complete failure. The government dominated its interactions with the POA and when it tried to compromise, the POA rejected the offer.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Aberdeen Press & Journal. “Wildcat strike called off fresh talks offer” Aberdeen Press & Journal (Scotland) 30 August 2007

Birmingham Post, The. “Act averts jail officers’ strike” The Birmingham Post 9 May 2008

Campbell, Duncan. ‘Police warn of prison chaos: warders ignore ruling that strike is illegal” The Guardian 30 August 2007

Daily Mail, The. “Prison guards may strike within weeks in war with Straw” The Daily Mail (London) 8 January 2008

Durham County Publications. “Prison officers’ strike vote” Durham County Publications (England) 16 August 2007

Evans, Catherine. “Prisons face strike vote” Wales on Sunday (Cardiff, Wales) 19 August 2007

Guardian Unlimited. “Prison officers reject pay deal” Guardian Unlimited 6 March 2008

Haddon, Katherine. “Thousands of prison officers in England and Wales strike” Agence France Presse. 29 August 2007

Harper, Tom. “Prison offices set to ‘strike’ over pay” The Sunday Herald (United Kingdom) 26 August 2007

Higgerson, David and Richard Down. “Nurses told to ‘act as guards’ at city prison” Daily Post (Liverpool, England) 22 January 2008

Johnston, Philip. “Prison officers face strike ban after walkout” Daily Telegraph (London) 30 August 2007

MacDonell, Hamish. “Scotland to keep prison officers’ rights to strike” The Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland) 9 January 2008

MacLeod, Catherine. “Prison officers call off wildcat strike, return to work after new pay talks offered by government” The Herald (United Kingdom) 30 August 2007

Nelson, Nigel. “Ripper Strike Ballot” Sunday People (London) 24 February 2008

Northampton Chronicle and Echo. “Former inmate backs prison strike” Northampton Chronicle Echo 3 September 2007

Nottingham Evening Post. “Prison pay dispute may lead to strike” Nottingham Evening Post (England) 20 August 2007

Rao, Prashant. “Prison officers in England and Wales call off strike” Agence France-Presse 29 August 2007

Scotsman, The. “GBP 500 for staff who broke prison strike” The Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland) 1 September 2007

Taylor, Andrew. “Injunction halts strike by prison officers” Financial Times (London) 30 August 2007

----. “Prison officers seek right to strike” Financial Times (London) 13 September 2007

Visitor, The. “Prison officers on strike” The Visitor (Morecambe) 29 August 2007

Yorkshire Post. “Prison officers face legal action over walkout” Yorkshire Post (England) 29 August 2007

Additional Notes: 
After the strike concluded, some individuals did express support for the campaign. John Cox, a former inmate, expressed support for the very prison officers that once supervised him. Additionally, MacAskill, the Justice Secretary of Scotland stated that Scotland would not pass a not forbidding their prison officers to strike.
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Julio Alicea, 05/12/2010