December 14, 2016

It’s time to end union militancy

It’s time to end union militancy

The time has come for the government to ban strikes in the public sector and in those industries, such as the railways, that receive a public subsidy, says Peter Bingle.

One of Margaret Thatcher’s greatest achievements was trade union reform. She rightly sensed that voters had had enough of trade union militancy and acted to curtail their power.

Although it is now a distant memory, the ‘winter of discontent’ was the moment when the unions overreached themselves. Rubbish piled up in streets. The dead were unable to be buried. The then Labour government seemed powerless to control the issue to the point that political commentators were asking: “Is Britain governable?”

Thatcher took on the union barons. She had no time for union militants and the public supported her reforms. Even the all-powerful National Union of Mineworkers was unable to break her resolve. Union power dissipated. Membership started to decline. Militancy became a thing of the past.

Fast forward thirty years, however, and there are worrying signs of union militancy returning. The most blatant example is the long running dispute between the management of Southern Rail and their train drivers and guards, a dispute that has caused misery for commuters who simply want to be able to go to work.

Put to one side the fact that the management of Southern Rail is totally inept to the extent that it deserves to be stripped of its franchise, this dispute is about militancy pure and simple. Nobody is going to lose their job. Salaries are not going to be reduced. The dispute centres on who should be responsible for closing train doors!

The basic task of door closing is currently undertaken by guards. Southern Rail want the responsibility transferred to drivers with the guards focusing instead on looking after the wellbeing of the passengers. This is the stuff of comedy but it has become instead an obscene tragedy in which the unions’ contempt for train passengers has become painfully obvious.

So too has the need for government to have more powers to resolve industrial disputes in the public serves. Ronald Reagan famously fired air traffic controllers because of their unreasonable behaviour. Perhaps the government should have the power to do the same. There are many people who would do almost anything for a job. If guards and drivers on the Brighton to Victoria line don’t want to work perhaps they should all be fired?

The time has surely come when the government should ban strikes in the public sector and in those industries, such as the railways, that receive a public subsidy and are awarded franchises by a government created regulator.

Why shouldn’t unions have to pay compensation to customers who suffer because of their members’ unacceptable behaviour? The public mood is angry and the worrying signs of a new union militancy need to be curtailed now before they grow. Do ministers have the courage to do so?

Thatcher took on the unions because they were acting unreasonably and posed a threat to the democratic process. People have a right to go about their daily business without having to worry about whether or not their trains will run. Theresa May needs to show that she is a modern but true Thatcherite when it comes to union militancy. Those voters who are just about managing will back her to the hilt if she takes on the militants. Will she do so?

4.89 avg. rating (97% score) - 18 votes
Peter Bingle
Peter Bingle
Peter is the Founder of Terrapin Communications. With a career in politics and communications that has spanned almost four decades, he is one of the country's leading public affairs practitioners. His career has seen him advise many top companies, including McDonald’s, HSBC, L’Oreal, Permira, Motorola, Camelot, Rolls Royce & Kellogg's.
  • John Smith

    the unions like the labour party are in the final death throes

    ronald reagan had the right idea sack the lot

    there are 1,6 million unemployed dont tell me there arent any who couldnt do the job

  • franknowzad

    Scargill’s real act of lunacy was to start the strike in May when demand for coal always dropped off. Maybe the Stasi ordered him to do it?

  • franknowzad

    The Guard can walk the training guarding the passengers from yobs. It may involve some effort…

  • SonofBoudica

    The Union Barons are like the mafia gang bosses in Italy and the USA who used to (and still do in Italy) hold people hostage until their ransom demands were met. They should be treated as such.

  • Kingstonian

    You are correct – Southern simply operate the trains (when the Unions allow them to, that is) for a fixed fee and the revenue goes directly to the government. Part of the Management Contract was that Southern should operate with drivers opening and closing doors so any dispute by the unions on this point is with the government.

    This also means that passengers who grumble about fare increases should direct their ire at the DfT, not GoVia.

  • John Smith

    No state monopoly should have the right to strike
    Unless the taxpayer has the right to remove their money
    No one wants to subscribe to a company that treats its customers with contempt

    Like private industry the public sector unions would stop this stupidity

  • Enoch Powell

    Scargill threatened a strike the year Mrs T. came to power. She knew she wasn’t ready for him and gave him all his demands. She spent the next few years building up the reserves so that she knew that she could wait him out next time he jumped on his soapbox.

    Thatcher had clearly studied Sun Tzu. Especially the rule about defeating an enemy before he even walks onto the battlefield. Scargill wouldn’t have known Sun Tzu if you hit him in the face with a hard cover.

  • Enoch Powell

    I would guess that commuters in the south are so fed up by now, that it’s only a matter of time before one of them unloads on the strikers, or the Union offices, with a weapon.

    I, of course, would never condone such an action. I only point out that when Union action costs people their jobs, incomes, houses and families, that said union will find that people can only be pushed so far.

    As such, it becomes almost a kindness and a legally required act of risk management to sack every single last one of the bastards before a serious incident occurs.

  • MrVeryAngry

    Next step is that on many shortish haul commuter routes (and the tube) the driver could also be removed. Then you’d just have train captains like the DLR.

  • MrVeryAngry

    I cannot for the life of me see why the ‘right to strike’ is justifiable. It is a ‘special privilege’. All such special privileges are wrong. Including those to bankers (say). How can it be right that these people are allowed to break their employment contracts without consequence or sanction. Just take away that special privilege.

  • blingmun

    No strikes shouldn’t be banned. All that’s needed is all employment be scrapped. If you want to hire a cleaner or get private tuition for your kid you just agree a price and hand over the cash. No strings attached and no obligation on either side to do anything more than what’s agreed in a verbal contract.

    All employment should work in the exact same way (with the inclusion of written contracts obviously). If you choose to strike instead of keeping your side of the bargain you don’t get paid. If I behave like a twat word will get around and I’ll be forced to pay more for my labour. It really is that simple.

  • ScaryBiscuits

    Scargill only appeared incompetent because he was dancing to a plan worked out in detail by Mrs T and her advisors. It wasn’t an accident that there was a huge stockpile of coal. Nor was it an accident that the strike started after her landslide victory in 1983, having skilfully avoided confronting the miners in her first term. Scargill was up against the full might of the British state with a determined leader who’d just won the support of a large majority of working people. He never came close to winning and I’m not sure that was even his main objective. As a communist, his real goal wasn’t to win better terms for miners but to provoke a revolution.
    The easy solution to is simply to repeal Blair’s 1999 Employment Relations Act so that strikers can be fired.

  • James Bolivar DiGriz

    As I recall that Bill would have required that a strike be authorised by significant %age (maybe a majority) of the relevant membership and not just a majority of those who vote. That was prompted by some high profile strikes getting a clear majority (60, maybe 80 per cent) but on a small turnout, so those in favour were actually only c. 20% of the members.

    I don’t think that this would affect the dispute on SR.

  • David

    Wasn’t there a Trade Union Bill going through which would have imposed tougher conditions on striking etc.? Last I heard was that Mr. Cameron put it on hold because he wanted the support of the Unions in the EU Referendum. I’m not fully up to date on this but this is what I recall reading at the time. These Unions are getting away with this neanderthal behaviour operating under existin Laws presumably?

  • Bogbrush

    People forget how close to disaster Mrs T came, and how utterly incompetent Scargill in particular was.

    He lost because for a year or so before they built enormous stocks of coal, and he went head on. You can’t build stocks of doctor appointments or train schedules, and these lot are being way craftier.
    The train thing is easy; driverless trains are the obvious answer.


    Positive hopes/expectations required


    At least she’s better than Camoron. Best we we’ve got, I’m afraid

    Now Corbyn , there’s a total disaster!


    Bring on driver less trains. The technology is available NOW. These over paid, over rated drivers should be worried. C’mon let’s do it!

  • Badger

    I blame the Jews… well, Israel at least.

    And the Russians have their fingerprints all over it.

    And of course Trump.

  • Badger

    Sharia May is gutless.

  • Fubar2

    “Theresa May needs to show that she is a modern but true Thatcherite when it comes to union militancy. – See more at:

    Not much danger of that I’m afraid. The only two things that they share are the fact they were both born female. One had a backbone, the other does not.

  • Lancastrian Oik

    There’s a very simple solution- trades unions are protected from from being sued for causing economic loss by legislation passed in 1906. Change the law- such that it becomes a requirement that the union shows that is reasonable to take strike action. If a court decides that it is unreasonable (as in the present case, where ASLEF signed off on driver-only trains back in 2011) then the economic immunity is removed and the union can be sued (and it needn’t just be the management- a class action by a few thousand disgruntled commuters would put the fear of God into the idiotic SJWs who currently run ASLEF).

  • It isn’t actually a franchise…

    My understanding is that it is a Management Contract, not a franchise like the rest of the network – they are just collecting money on behalf of the government.

    It is because of the existence of a management contract – with government rather than operating company bearing the revenue risk – that the government has chosen the here SR to make its stand against obsolete union practices.

  • Shadow Warrior

    What it’s actually about is revenue protection. When the guard is sat in his little cabin checking his emails on his smartphone, just looking up every now and again to close the doors, he isn’t out checking tickets and collecting penalty fares.

  • Penkville

    While not supporting the strikes, it is reasonable to point out the obvious; the Guard’s job will disappear in due course once the Driver has control of the doors. This procedure will also be spread throughout the network in due course. So it’s not something you can reasonably expect a union not to fight tooth and nail…

  • Callumity

    The fact that job losses are not at issue should not preclude the threat of sacking for wiful breach of contract. Militancy succeeds where managers are weak and unprepared to fight. The trick is to demonstrate that Luddite union bosses are acting contrary to the interests of their mostly fair minded members and drive a wedge.

  • Polly Radical

    Strange how this problem is not being attributed to Brexit . . .

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