AS the railways grind to a halt today, the first of three days of crippling strikes, Boris Johnson faces the sternest test of his premiership.
The fate of the country is hanging in the balance.
If he fails to stand up to growing trade union militancy, then Britain could soon be dragged back to the dark days of the Seventies when industrial chaos gripped our land.
This disruption is just part of a gigantic wave of intransigence that is sweeping through our public services.
Only yesterday it was announced that the Criminal Barristers Association, acting like bewigged shop stewards, has voted to hold a rolling series of walkouts in support of an inflation-busting claim for a 25 per cent increase in legal aid rates.
At the same time, teaching unions are now considering a strike ballot in pursuit of a 12 per cent pay rise, while the British Medical Association could soon hold a similar vote in support of a 22 per cent pay demand from junior doctors.
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More turmoil is threatened by the unions in local government, the universities, the Post Office and the civil service.
The militants cannot prevail. Double digit pay rises would not only cost the taxpayer a fortune but would also accelerate the deadly cycle of inflation, which would ultimately destroy all prosperity.
Moreover the bloated public sector, dominated by low productivity, chronic waste, woke ideology and enfeebled management, is crying out for reform. More cash should not be poured into its sprawling bureaucracy without major change.
The trade unions were once the authentic voice of the working class, but today they are largely the self-serving defenders of subsidised privileges and outdated practices in the public sector.
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That is certainly true of the rail unions, made up of the RMT, the white collar TSSA and the drivers’ representatives ASLEF.
Their pose as the vanguard of the downtrodden proletariat is a grotesque fantasy, given that the median salary of rail staff is £44,000 and many drivers are on over £60,000.
Even more outrageously, Mick Lynch, the tinpot revolutionary who leads the RMT, enjoys a salary package worth £124,000.
Just as offensive is the rail unions’ boast that they are on the side of working people. The opposite is true. Lynch and his crew are the hammer of the workers.
Hammer of the workers
But the “I’m All Right Jack” troublemakers care nothing for the rights of commuters or the needs of the economy. Apart from their greed, what really motivates them is their determination to challenge the Tories.
For these left-wingers, infused with their dreams of Marxist domination, politics is the real agenda. That was graphically illustrated last Saturday when Mick Lynch launched into an inflammatory rant at a trade union rally in London.
“Are you going to be with us or are you going to be on the sidelines, while the Tories butcher the working class?,” he asked.
That hardline attitude explains why the RMT is so keen for the Government to become directly involved in negotiations.Mick Lynch, the tinpot revolutionary who leads the RMT, enjoys a salary package worth £124,000[/caption] The Prime Minister must stand firm against this onslaught, otherwise Britain will become ungovernable[/caption]
The trade unions want an explosive confrontation with the Tories, exploiting the atmosphere of division to advance the cause of the radical left, just as Arthur Scargill tried to do against Margaret Thatcher when he led the miners’ strike of the 1980s.
Tellingly, the bosses of the other unions on the attack — like Mark Serwotka of the PCS civil service union or Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the NEU teachers’ union — also hail from the left.
The Prime Minister must stand firm against this onslaught, otherwise Britain will become ungovernable. Our nation is already being battered by rampant inflation, soaring debt and the highest tax burden since the early 1950s.
Yesterday, the distinguished US newspaper the Wall Street Journal, surveying our economic problems, even described Britain as “a basket case”. It would be catastrophic to add the appeasement of the unions to this mix.
That is what happened in the 70s, when the militants dictated state policy and huge pay settlements fed an inflation rate that reached 25 per cent. In the process, Britain became known as “the sick man of Europe”.
Defiance of managers was a national characteristic. When Sir Horace Cutler, the Conservative Leader of the Greater London Council, was asked how many people worked at TFL, he replied, “about half of them.”
Throughout the decade, the public was held to ransom by the labour movement, whose arrogance was encapsulated by the 1973 song from the Strawbs, “You won’t get me, I’m part of the union”.
Late that year, the Tory government headed by Edward Heath was forced to introduce a three-day working week in an attempt to conserve dwindling coal supplies, which were at risk from a long-running dispute organised by the National Union of Mineworkers in support of a 35 per cent pay claim.
In a semi-paralysed economy, pubs were closed, factories shut early, and television broadcasts were restricted. Families eating their evening meal by flickering candlelight because of official power cuts became a symbol of a country in meltdown.
Heath had tried to restrain the unions’ ability to flex their muscles by new legislation, but his measures had proved ineffective and the strikes worsened.
The Labour government which succeeded him adopted a softly-softly approach, with the unions regularly invited into No10 for “beer and sandwiches”.
But that only emboldened the trouble-makers. The deepening anarchy culminated in the notorious Winter of Discontent in 1979 when 29million working days were lost to industrial action involving 4.6million workers that year. In parts of the country, bodies went unburied because of a gravediggers’ strike.
Similarly, rubbish was piled high in the streets when the refuse collectors downed tools.
One of the most striking images of this episode, which reverberated round the world, was of mountains of garbage in the heart of Leicester Square, one of the capital’s prime tourist spots.The trade unions want an explosive confrontation with the Tories, just as Arthur Scargill tried to do against Margaret Thatcher when he led the miners’ strike of the 1980s.[/caption]
In another indicator of the militants’ tyranny, officials from the Confederation of Health Service Employees seized the power to inspect ambulances and decide which patients could be admitted to hospital.
“There is madness in the air,” the Downing Street aide Bernard Donoughue wrote in his diary at the time.
Margaret Thatcher heroically pulled Britain back from the brink of lunacy after winning the 1979 general election. The task of taming the unions was central to her mission of national revival.
Today, Boris must take inspiration from her leadership. In practice that means upholding pay restraint, drawing up contingency plans for strikes and passing new laws that restrict the ability of the unions to cause mayhem.
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One simple change would be to remove the trade unions’ immunity from claims for damages arising from strikes. No other body or individual enjoys such legal protection, and it is a privilege that has promoted stubbornness and selfishness.
This is the hour for change. We will all pay a brutal price if the unions win.