Rhetorical Functions in Academic Writing: Arguing and discussing


Read the following text and identify the features given in the examples.


The study of strikes published today by the Department of Employment sets out to explode a myth, one which has greatly contributed over recent years to our decline in industrial confidence and in Britain's esteem abroad. The myth is that the habit of going on strike is ingrained in our workforce, to an extent paralleled almost nowhere else. Like most myths, it is relatively easy to scotch by literalist methods, but much more difficult to demolish as symbolic truth. Of course Britain is not unusual internationally, in terms of the number and extent of its strikes: their effects are another matter.

The new study looks more closely than ever before at the strike record in manufacturing industry in three years (1971-73) which were intentionally chosen because they were especially disturbed. In 1972, indeed, Britain must have been easily the most strike-ridden large nation on earth; we lost about three times as many days per head of the workforce as in a normal year. Nevertheless, the study shows that 95 per cent of factories were entirely free of strikes during the whole period. Of the remainder only a third had more than one stoppage. Even in parts of Britain notorious for bad labour relations all but a few factories were as peaceful as those elsewhere. The same is apparently true (the figures are to appear later) of industries supposedly prone to unrest. Although the study deals only with manufacturing industry, the picture it presents of general harmony and particular bitterness would be even more true in the non-manufacturing sector, which includes the mines and the docks.

This is all well worth knowing. It sweeps away some exaggerated misconceptions and may help to overcome the reluctance of manufacturers to open plants in areas where militancy has frightened investment away. But it is not going to make "the English sickness" a meaningless concept. Exactly comparable figures for other countries may not exist, but no doubt they would also show only a tiny proportion of all workers engaging in serious strikes. Even in a bad year for earthquakes, one expects the ground to remain stable almost everywhere. Strikes never account for nearly as many days lost as illness and accidents, yet their economic significance is of a wholly different kind.

Britain usually ranks about fifth worst among major industrial nations in the table of days lost per head through strikes. Australia, Canada, Italy and the United States fairly regularly do worse; indeed striking is something of an Anglo-Saxon disease. France generally loses fewer than half as many days, West Germany fewer than a tenth as many. Most comparable countries suffered an increase in unrest in the early 1970s, though Britain has enjoyed unusual peace in the last two years. The table of days lost does not by itself go far towards explaining Britain's economic decline.

What is not measured either by that table or by the new research is the damage that each strike does. In France and Italy many strikes are more in the nature of political feast-days - symbolic breaks for demonstrations that do not disrupt production unduly. In the United States strikes tend to be long and bitter, but also infrequent and predictable. Countries where each industry has one union are less subject than Britain to action by small groups bringing larger ones to a standstill. Britain has an unusually high proportion of unofficial strikes. A method remains to be found of showing in figures how it is that British strikes hurt more, but the impression that they do is irresistible. The study does not show, and scarcely could, how many lost days strikes cause outside the plants where they occur, nor how many grievances ferment among workers laid off by other people's strikes - nor yet how much effect a strike may have on delivery times and export business. When all the misconceptions have been discounted and all allowance made for new laws on arbitration and workers' rights, neither managers nor trade unionists have anything to be complacent about in our disordered system of industrial relations.

The Times