British politics now has a clear flavor of the 1970s.
The escalating threat from Russia, the shock of the price of oil, raging inflation and the growing militancy of the unions are just some of the features of those of us who are old enough to remember that the dark decade they had hoped for has been safely sent to past.
A wave of strikes and overtime bans on the rail network have threatened or are taking place – both in Scotland, where almost the entire system is back in public ownership, and by RMT members in 13 train companies and Network Rail in the rest of the UK – is best understood in broader inflation. context.
When prices rise rapidly and are expected to rise even faster, workers in powerful unions that control labor supply in strategically important sectors are better able to isolate than other groups by seeking and subsequently securing large wage increases.
The law of the jungle … in industrial relations
The law of the jungle basically brings the disease of inflation into industrial relations – in the absence of a good monetary order, the strong thrive and the weaker suffer.
So the recent plea of Andrew Bailey, the afflicted Governor of the Bank of England, for voluntary restrictions by the workers, must have unleashed a long round of empty laughter between the battles hardened by the RMT and Aslef leaders.
Aslef drivers in Scotland have introduced a ban on overtime, which is already causing confusion in the night economy and shift workers in sectors such as healthcare. Their employer Nicola Sturgeon offered them a salary increase of 2.2 percent, but they demand more than 10 percent.
In England, it is the RMT that threatens to derail the economic recovery from Covid after its members vote in favor of the strike.
His secretary general, Mick Lynch, pretends to be the voice of common sense, saying that all his members want is “a decent salary increase, job security and no mandatory dismissal.”
Nevertheless, the RMT called for protests and the expected timing – from mid-June – before talks on future salaries and conditions begin. Mr Lynch called on government ministers to “call on employers to return to the negotiating table and agree on a reasonable settlement.”
The unions will win if there are strikes
The main employer, Network Rail chief Andrew Haines, already sounds like a beaten man and begs the RMT to “find a compromise and avoid harmful protests.” He also claimed that “everyone will lose if there is a strike.”
Unfortunately, this is simply not correct. The vast majority of us will certainly lose either by the confusion caused by our travel measures, or by the increase in general inflationary pressure and the imitation of industrial disputes that will follow if the RMT and Aslef win their disputes.
But if they secure relief, RMT and Aslef members will not lose except a short-term salary loss when they go on strike. And many years of experience have taught them that such losses are far more than offset by the high salaries and shorter working hours their militancy has earned them in the past.
A real monopoly on the supply of labor for a sector using extremely expensive infrastructure has enabled them to become working-class aristocrats. For example, Aslef drivers in Scotland are already about over £ 50,000 without overtime, while full-time RMT drivers in the London Underground have a base salary of around £ 57,000, with 43 days of paid leave a year and a free annual tube ticket. for himself and his wife and retire in full at the age of 60.
The confusion that the latter group could cause to the capital’s economy when it strikes has led successive London mayors – Sadiq Khan and Boris Johnson ahead of him – to promise to abide by the strike ban agreements. Not surprisingly, the unions have proved completely reluctant to even agree to such an agreement, and the Queen of the Platinum Jubilee is currently planning a crippling strike immediately after the weekend.
The government must show muscle
It is not impossible for governments and employers to break the grip of militant unions, which run closed shops and can stop production on a whim. However, this requires extensive planning and a lot of courage and determination.
In the United States in the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan did this with air traffic controllers – secretly hiring shadow labor and then simply firing the attackers. A little later, the industrial relations of the British newspaper industry were transformed by Rupert Murdoch doing something similar to the printing unions when he opened a new plant in Wapping.
And most famous of all, Margaret Thatcher tamed Arthur Scargill’s National Miners ‘Union by building up coal reserves, encouraging a moderate breakaway Democratic Miners’ Union, and deploying large numbers of police to stop the intimidating demonstrations. It took her a whole year to win.
In the absence of such muscular determination among the current generation of conservative ministers, we must prepare for the inevitable reward for militancy, because the weak leadership lacking leverage will recede.
Left-wing trade union leaders will present inflationary compensation as the victory of the working people, but most workers will lose due to the consequent higher prices after they have already suffered serious disruption during the disputes.