Philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once suggested “People only see what they are prepared to see”. His words lead us to recognize that when it comes to matters of public opinion, public perception is what guides support for the actions of our legislators and drives the creation of public policy. Regardless of the story behind the public’s perception, the perception itself is all that matters.
In response to this blog’s last post on the transport workers strike action, Jonathan of Catch a Fire suggests that many public commentators make the mistake of not understanding how a union works and defends that unions indeed do eliminate alternative options prior to engaging in strike action. To these remarks one may easily contest that public commentators do not need to know how a union works for public commentators represent little more than a reflection of public perception. A perception that alternative options have not been eliminated which says more about the need for effectiveness when the union communicates its processes than it does about the need for commentators to understand it.
Indeed, the one voice represented by this blog may reflect the feelings harbored by many who grow increasingly frustrated with the rising frequency of industrial action, especially where there is a lack of explanation as to whether or not all other means of negotiation were first exhausted. While it is easy to suggest that in most cases process is followed, how can it be ascertained that this case has been treated as such? Indeed, how can one be certain that any case matches most cases if the process has not been communicated?
Abraham Maslow, a man considered to be the father of humanistic psychology, once said, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems begin to resemble nails”. His words hold merit as increasingly the actions of the union give rise to the perception that industrial action is the only tool that is widely used. This perception rises when considering the many incidents of the last few years that have been solved through industrial action as opposed to negotiation. Adding to this perception is the consideration that with a labor government in power unions should be less likely to have to resort to strike action to resolve differences. Thus, while many such incidents may have been justified some may not have been and one may begin to wonder how often the boy shall be able to cry wolf before the people stop listening.
As was suggested when we began this piece, when it comes to matters of public opinion, perception is the only reality that matters. The question of whether or not the union has exhausted all options before industrial action matters only in the depths of how well this has been communicated with the public. That communication then being measured against the action the public perceives has been taken to justify whether it was necessary. If the public does not hold the perception that the union has been right to take action then perception can work against their favor. Indeed, the opinion formed by the public is that which shapes support and guidance for our leadership and their approach to policy. Policy which can shape the course of how readily unions are able to wield a hammer to strike a nail.