The purpose of this game is to simulate how and why people may choose to go on strike and to demonstrate the complexities at work. You could warm up for this activity by playing Workers, bosses, politicians
Have a brief discussion — ask in a group:
- Can they name some trade unions?
- Do you know anyone in a trade union?
- What is a trade union?
- What is a strike?
- Why do people strike?
Split people into 5 groups: The government, An employer, ACAS, A union, Workers
The government has run out of money and cannot afford to raise minimum wage. A group of cleaners, paid at the minimum wage are struggling to cope. Because inflation is so high, a pay freeze (no rising in wages) is effectively a pay cut. The workers are not happy. The cleaners work for Woodcraft Inc. a small timber merchant who cannot afford to raise their wages due to the government timber subsidies being cut. The cleaners look to the National Union of Cleaners (NUC) for help…
Each of the following scenarios is then to be given to each group:
- The Government: You have little money and the economy is failing. Raising the minimum wage would mean increasing costs, something which you cannot do. Subsidies for a British timber market do not seem the most efficient option when cheaper timber can be found from abroad. You realise there is pressure from both employers and workers on both these issues but will press ahead with the plans.
- The Employer: You are struggling due to government cuts. You feel you cannot raise the wages of the cleaners. You have moved your company to the Cayman Islands to dodge the tax rises.
- The National Union of Cleaners: You must act on the behalf of the employees in their struggle for better wages. You must engage with the employer to try and raise wages. You re deeply frustrated that Woodcraft Inc. has recently moved to the Cayman Islands to avoid paying taxes. You must also campaign on behalf of the workers against the government who you believe should be doing more to help the economy. You may want to ballot your members for strikes, other industrial action or call a national demonstration.
- The Cleaners: You are struggling to cope with the poor wages you are working on and feel you are being treated unjustly. You have called on the NUC to help out and must approach your union to make sure they can act on your behalf to get you to improve wages. If the time comes, you are prepared to go on strike, but understand that every day you strike, you lose a days pay and things are already tough financially.
- ACAS: The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) acts as a mediator in times of disputes between employers and unions. Your job is to try and come to a solution that does not require industrial action. You must try and use negotiation to get a result that everyone is happy with.
The simulation can be fairly free in its structure. It may be easiest to place each group in separate geographical locations. It is up to each group who they approach, when and what methods they use. There may be a time where you need to push the game to have an outcome – maybe tell the NUC to give a time limit e.g. ACAS, you have five minutes more negotiation time or the NUC will go on strike.
The game should finish when it comes to a natural conclusion. The most natural of conclusions would be that everyone is happy. It may also conclude with a stalemate with the cleaners on strike and the employer / government not giving in. Either is fine.
The discussion can be tailored to the needs of the group and on the outcome of the simulation but here are some themes you might like to think about:
Would I go on strike? Do strikes work? Is it right that in campaigning for something that I gain, I impact others? How did I feel playing the role I did in the simulation? Should everyone have the right to strike? Are each player in the simulation as self-interested as the simulation suggests?