Whether or not the decline in strikes is a proof of the triumph of capitalism is not clear. Capitalist theories have always maintained that after peaking out, conflicts will plateau out due to the streamlining of the capitalist culture. Moreover, as the capitalist economy has now turned into a predominantly services economy, the percentage of white collar workers has increased tremendously. There is some merit to the view that jobs in the ‘new economy’ offer greater scope for fulfilling one’s creative potential than the somewhat restricted and monotonous jobs of the ‘old economy’. This change was believed to have reduced conflict, and by extension the necessity for strikes, since the early ‘90s. Further, it is also true that discontent from white collar workers is likely to show up as individual lawsuits as opposed to collective strikes.
Human Resource Management as a field of practice has grown in sophistication over the years. And companies with good managements put in place robust mechanisms for employee grievance redress, which nip potential conflicts in the bud. This could also be a contributing factor for the lessening number of registered strikes in the UK.
Hence, in conclusion, while statistics clearly show a decline in the number of worker strikes in the last two decades, they do not necessarily indicate a corresponding decrease in ‘conflict’. As John Godard, and prior to him Richard Hyman, perceptively state, Industrial Relations constantly witness conflict between the working and managing classes. But due to the change in the nature of the economy, as well as comprehensive legislation to protect employee rights, the conflict manifests in alternative forms such as individual lawsuits. The overall improvement in standards of living and work conditions has also alleviated conflicts to an extent. And finally, the greater sophistication of HR practices has played a role in mitigating conflict. In conclusion, while the drastic drop in strikes in the UK suggests improved employee relations, they do not imply a proportionate absence of conflict.
Godard, John., What Has Happened to Strikes?, British Journal of Industrial Relations, 49:2 June 2011 0007–1080 pp. 282–30