Public sector strikes Q&A: what happens next

In the aftermath of the public sector strikes MSN News spoke to Clive Rich, a top barrister who has helped settle some of Britain's biggest industrial disputes, about what exactly the unions are after, whether they will prove successful and what might happen next in their confrontation with the government.

What are the unions hoping to achieve through these strikes?

Public sector strikes

In isolation, strikes don't achieve much

I think the fundamental problem with these strikes is that there does not actually seem to be a single desired outcome. This complicates things for both sides because it is very difficult to negotiate, to broker a solution to dispute, with such a muddle of ideas.

With that in mind, what can these strikes actually achieve?

I'm not sure, in isolation, they will achieve much. I think the only way this kind of pressure is likely to have an impact is if it is sustained - and that's going to be difficult for the unions. Strike action has a limited effect unless it is maintained.

Protests like this are a slightly outmoded way of negotiating in the modern world - the game has changed.

So what will happen next in this dispute?

Irrespective of strike action, the parties are going to have to come to a negotiated solution at some point.

I don't think unions have the stamina to batter the government into submission, and I don't think the government can afford to be turned around by the unions. Further, although the unions could potentially run out of energy, it's not in the government's interest to roll over the union - this would merely create a lingering resentment which would manifest itself in different ways.

Negotiation is undoubtedly in both parties' best interests.

So how can a deal best be struck?

In the modern world, it's time to think about partnerships, not punishments, when attempting to get what you want.

Both the unions and the government need the same thing - for the other side to understand their desired outcome. The government is looking out for the best interests of the nation, and the unions for their members. Both sides need to find a way to unite their separate needs.

To get to that point, both parties need to get over themselves, stop just focusing on their own position and think about what the other side wants out of negotiation - the best way to get what you want is to focus on the goals of the other side.