Wednesday 24 March 2010
Now is the Spring of our Discontent
We in England are facing a new wave of union militancy and Old Labour shibboleths as this government shambles to its terminus. So, the time has come to blow the dust off your disused political lexicons, to look up the meanings of words and phrases like 'beer and sandwiches', 'our members' legitimate aspirations', 'one out, all out', 'mass meeting in local car-park', 'holding the country to ransom', and on and on and on. The trade union boss and his 'comb over' is surely set to reappear as a contemporary fashion statement.
One after the other the little chickens come home. Consider Unite, the super union, or the super political conspiracy, I can't make up my mind which, the force behind the attempt to destroy British Airways, the force that has the Labour Party in its pocket, the force that is helping to fund 148 Labour seats at the election, the force with 167 Labour MPs or candidates as members. Lord Ashcroft is nothing compared with the influence and financial clout this organisation wields, pouring £11 million into Labour coffers since 2007, and giving additional funds to over half the cabinet, including Gordon Brown and Ed Balls.
Isn't it just the thing; one has to wait an age for a strike when along come two at once! Just as Unite is attempting to stop BA, the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) is promising the first national rail walk-out in sixteen years, hitting the network just after the Easter weekend holiday, the busiest time of the year. The usual cry will go up from the likes of Bob Crow, the RMT leader, as big a mouth as Red Len of Unite, that this is a defence of 'jobs n services' when it's nothing more than an attempt to 'disrupt n alienate' customers.
Then there is the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCSU), which also has a number of Labour MPs in its pocket, 'ordering' them to join a strike this coming Budget Day over the government's proposed curb on redundancy pay-offs, a clear attempt to interfere with the workings of Parliament. Conservative MP Mark Pritchard has rightly said that not content with closing Britain's airports and railways, union bosses are now colluding with Labour MPs to disrupt democracy itself.
The monster is back and things are set to get worse. William Rees-Mogg wrote an excellent piece in The Mail on Sunday Review lamenting its reappearance, lamenting the rise of a new Militant Tendency. There is a difference this time. Neil Kinnock, not a man of any great intelligence or strength of character, at least had sufficient residual wit to cast that particular lunacy from the door. Not so Mad Gordon. He is on the best of terms with Charlie Whelan, Unite's political director and his old spin-doctor, one of the principal forces and intriguers behind the new militancy. This man is so bad that even Colin Byrne, one-time Labour's Chief Press Officer, asked; "What is a strike-mongering politically discredited nutter like Charlie Whelan doing at the heart of Labour's Election campaign?"
Yes, what is he doing there? The answer presents no problems for me; the Labour government is made up of nutters of one kind or another, headed by Gordon Brown. Charlie is an old crony, the kind of person this desperately insecure man feels most secure with. This is the political equivalent, as Rees-Mogg hints, of Jim Callaghan appointing Arthur Scargill to a similar position, or, as I would say, Neil Kinnock entering into an alliance with the likes of Derek Hatton, the Militant Marxist mouth who once headed Liverpool Council.
Rees-Mogg, the dear old liberal leftie that he is, says that trade unionism is a valuable institution provided it is protecting the interests of workers. Really; is it? I begin to wonder; I begin to wonder if organisations like Unite, the RMT and the PCSU do not operate in the contrary direction, inimical to the interests both of their benighted members and the country at large. We are now seeing the first signs of the great battles to come, battles that have to be fought regardless of the outcome of the general election. The deficit will have to be reduced; the union barons will fight any such reduction in the name of 'jobs n services.'
David Cameron is alert to this, alert to the need to stand up to these politically-motivated and sectionally-minded bullies. He says he will emulate Margaret Thatcher in facing down such vested interests. Yes, there are two ways of going here - the Thatcher way and the Heath way. The latter should always be thought of as a warning. Industrial relations was one other thing that Heath got wrong, introducing a court that imprisoned militants and made martyrs. No, that's not the way to do it; the way to do it is to hit them where it hurts, in their inflated bank accounts.
I personally would have one simple solution for dealing with trade union militancy. I would revoke the wholly unfair immunity that these organisations enjoy in law, the right to breach a contract without suffering financial penalties. I would revoke, in other words, the Trades Disputes Act of 1906, introduced by the then Liberal government, which excused unions from being sued for the damages caused during strikes. I would return legislation in this area to that prevailing after the Taff Vale ruling, a landmark in common law, political freedom, and persoanl responsibility. By this trade unions were held liable under the law of tort for damages and loss of profits. It was an effective way of dealing with earlier militancy, most particularly in the railways. Oh, how it would make the likes of Bob Crow squeal. :-))