FORTY-FOUR years ago this week, Britain began its descent into a three-month nightmare as workers in multiple sectors knocked down tools and went on coordinated strikes.
For the next four decades, we pretended to believe that the militant unions had been defeated and that we would never experience a similar national paralysis again.
But we were wrong: union militancy was not dead, it was just sleeping.
We’re a long way from the misery of the winter of discontent in terms of days lost to strikes, but there’s a strong whiff of 1970 in the air.
Once again railway workers got out.
National Rail is urging passengers not to bother traveling until January 8 if they can possibly help it.
Border agency workers will also be on strike for most of this week.
In January we face more disruption from ambulance drivers, nurses, driving examiners and others.
In some ways things are worse than they were in early 1979.
Many of the public services now affected were already dysfunctional before the strikes.
The railways and NHS have never really recovered from Covid lockdowns.
People have had to wait two weeks for a doctor’s appointment, some have had to cancel vacations because their passports did not arrive on time, or are unable to drive because they cannot renew their licences.
There is a deep uneasiness in much of the public sector.
Many employees seem to no longer want to work, or they only want to work four days a week, or they expect to be able to work from home continuously.
And yet unions still appear to be expecting fat, anti-inflationary wage increases — and without changes in labor practices to improve productivity.
Sorry, but that just doesn’t add up.
You can’t have an economy where productivity is stagnant and everyone is helping themselves to a big raise every year.
Inflation is nature’s way of making sure we don’t get something for free.
The railway is a prime example of the unrealistic demands made by the unions.
Railway employees already enjoy top salaries.
The average salary for a railway worker is currently £43,747 – around £10,000 a year more than the average UK worker.
Train drivers, in particular, have seen record wage increases of 39 percent over the past decade.
During Covid they continued to receive their full salary, even though few trains ran.
But they certainly didn’t earn their raises by being more productive.
On the contrary, the railway industry is failing.
In the year to March, railways took in £5.8bn in ticketing revenue – but swallowed £13.3bn in public subsidies.
If railroads were a normal industry, unsupported by taxpayers, they would be bankrupt.
Either that, or the railroad companies would be desperate to survive by shedding jobs and other costs.
But the RMT refuses to discuss even one of the obvious ways it could bring revenue and costs a little more into line: by introducing more driver-only trains.
Driver-only trains have been perfectly safe on British railways since 1982 when BR successfully introduced them despite protesting unions.
They already make up 30 percent of the trains.
Many trains could also be driven without a driver.
There are dozens of subway systems around the world that operate with no driver in sight.
But in Britain, railways continue to employ far more staff than they need simply because unions have blocked reform and the government was too scared to hire them.
Union militancy may have gotten rail workers hefty pay rises for now, but the industry just can’t carry on as it has been.
British households paid an average of £400 in subsidies last year to prop up the railways – whether they ever use trains or not.
Even before the pandemic, 40 percent of people hadn’t taken the train for at least a year – and usage has since fallen sharply.
Between April and June of this year, the number of passengers was only 76 percent of what it was before the pandemic.
Thanks to the strikes, even more passengers will finally leave the train. By seeking short-term gains, unions are destroying their industry.
It’s the same as four decades ago.
The union leaders who caused the winter of discontent were undoubtedly happy with their jobs at the time.
After all, they helped bring down the Callaghan government.
But look what happened after that.
The National Union of Mineworkers helped hasten the decline of the coal industry.
Nationalized automaker British Leyland stumbled on for a few more years before going under, taking with it every job at Birmingham’s notoriously militant Longbridge plant.
British steelmaking is a shadow of itself.
Britain can have union militancy or prosper economically. It cannot have both.
That was a lesson we had to learn the hard way in the 1970s.
It’s sad that we have to learn all this again.
https://www.the-sun.com/news/6994843/we-can-have-unions-or-success-not-both/ We didn’t learn from the 1970s: we can have unions or have success, not both