11 January 2015

Don’t ban strikes – sack strikers


The Tories know that commuters hate being held to ransom by transport strikers, they know that union bashing polls well with their target voters and puts Labour’s Ed Miliband, the leader of a union-financed opposition party, on the side of his sponsor’s vested interests and the wrong side of most voters. So much for the low politics of strike bans.

Strike bans effectively legalise forced labour. The UK’s Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told Daily Telegraph readers that “union leaders are holding Britain to ransom”. No they are not; they are negotiating for better pay. They are no more holding Britain to ransom than City traders demanding higher bonuses. In a free market sellers demand the highest prices the market will bear and those who sell their labour are no different to any other commodity traders. Government legislated strike bans are just the other side of the coin to government enforced price controls.

Strike bans are also, as a matter of practicality, unenforceable in a free society. Are the Tories really going to force train drivers out of their beds at gunpoint? Will they imprison nurses who refuse to work? Will they manacle teachers to their blackboards? Perhaps they will waterboard firemen who refuse to climb their ladders with their own hoses? This is all just empty political posturing.

More likely they will propose draconian legislation which financially penalises the unions. In that case underground unofficial unions would rise up, like Poland’s Communist era Solidarity union. Will they dare to jail a modern day Lech Wałęsa?

There is a better way to break strikes. Fire the strikers for breaching their contract. That takes the kind of political courage that Ronald Reagan had when he did it to the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization. Alan Greenspan described Reagan’s 1981 destruction of PATCO as “perhaps most important” of all of Reagan’s domestic undertakings. The defeat of PATCO during the first summer of the Reagan administration “gave weight to the legal right of private employers, previously not fully exercised, to use their own discretion to both hire and discharge workers.” With employers’ “freedom to fire” renewed, entrepreneurial initiative could once again be unleashed. Reagan’s action thus inaugurated an era of “low unemployment and low inflation.” If the Tories are so sure the public is on their side they should fire the strikers and hire replacements. If the pay offered is fair the replacements will be found. If not, pay up. That is the free market way.

Boris Johnson is the contemporary politician most like Ronald Reagan in terms of his boldly optimistic conservatism, yet the Mayor of London wants the Conservative manifesto to ban strikes with less than 30% of union voters in support. He should instead copy Reagan. London’s tube commuters know that it is a small minority of RMT union militants who want strikes. Don’t ban them, fire them once and for all.

Paul Staines is the blogger Guido Fawkes