One week, three strikes. London’s tube network, firefighters and the BBC. This frequency of strikes jars with the claim that striking is the last resort in industrial disputes. It makes me wonder about the range of tools we have available to resolve conflict and question the way we have structured society. It makes me ponder the influence of the class culture in the seemingly rapid polarisation that occurs in conflict. And it inspires me to imagine the possible role of the Christian community.
The Dutch are known for a strong consensus culture, pragmatically recognising diversity and aiming for cooperation despite differences. The origin of the Dutch term ‘polder model’ gives us an illustrative metaphor. A significant part of the country consists of polders, land below sea level. Historically, competing or warring cities in the polder had to cooperate. For without unanimous agreement on shared responsibility for the dikes and pumping stations, the polders would have flooded. Sink or swim.
The election result has forced UK politicians to adopt a consensus model of democracy. Government by coalition is common in several European countries. It will be fascinating to see this migration away from the traditional adversarial style. Yet a national character anchored in strong historic roots doesn’t change overnight. It needs a guiding transforming philosophy, which, I propose, lies in the Christian worldview.
The Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper articulated in the 19th century the implications of a Christian worldview for all spheres of life, “In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, 'That is mine!'.”
So what could that look like in 21st century industrial disputes? Could Christian values and skills generate an epoch-defining transition in the way industrial disputes are conducted, gradually transforming the way employers and employees perceive one another, relate and organise themselves?
The consensus model of decision-making has strong Christian roots. Historically, the Quakers, Mennonites and Anabaptists aimed for a process that came to a "common mind". It is strongly egalitarian and inclusive in nature and ensures that all parties have an equal input into the process. Conflict resolution is continuously built into the discussion that aims for the common good.
In his book To Change the World, James Davison Hunter challenges us to think through in an institutional way in every sphere of life what constructive subversion could look like. We are to challenge structures and procedures that dehumanise people. We are meant to shape patterns of work and relationship towards a shalom that seeks the welfare of all.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”, writes Paul in Romans 12:18. His double plea – if possible, as far as it depends on you – emphasises the importance of pursuing good, peaceful community relations. Peace building that shapes the attitude, tools and atmosphere of our workplace and its conflicts.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus characterises the sons of God by their ability to make for peace (Matthew 5:9). Blessed are the peacemakers in our family rifts and neighbourly rows, in international relations and in our industrial disputes.
Marijke Hoek - Coordinator Forum for Change