Facing down trade unions

by Benjamin Elks, fundraising, operations and events assistant 


Over the summer, taxpayers across the country had to deal with industrial unrest. But this was not the end of the story, with a fresh round of strikes already underway and set to get worse during the Conservative Party Conference starting this week.


The scale of the planned action is enormous. The largest strike comes from postal workers, with 19 days set aside between now and Christmas, stopping seasonal post landing through people’s letterboxes. Port workers at Felixstowe and Liverpool are also taking time off, the former for eight days. Joining these are UNISON, the Scottish NHS, train unions and bus staff in Kent. Unions are calling for inflation-busting pay rises, with many of them in the public sector and therefore expecting these rises to be funded by the taxpayer. With the tax burden having reached a 70 year high, and the markets panicking about the government’s commitment to fiscal restraint, these wishes simply cannot be granted. 


An autumn of synchronised strikes would be difficult for any government, especially one which has only been in office for a few weeks. So how are the new government going to respond?


The government made a start last week when the chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, announced that unions would have to put pay offers to their members during negotiations and that transport unions provide a minimum level of service. These actions will take some of the bite out of strikes, helping moderate union leaders to avoid them and getting taxpayers where they need to go if industrial action does take place.


The prime minister has also shown personal interest in tackling militant strikers, suggesting during the Tory leadership contest that the voting threshold for strike action should rise. Liz Truss has also promised to continue reforms to trade union facility time, in response to our campaign drawing attention to the practice, which allows union reps to undertake their duties on taxpayers’ time. 


As Len Shackleton explained recently on CapX, all this may not be enough. One day strikes negate the usefulness of agency workers, and minimum service requirements may struggle in practice. Restrictions on facility time will only limit the hours available, not prevent union reps using the time to plan strikes. So there may be more to be done, including looking again to limit the Employment Protection Act of 1975

In the meantime, taxpayers need the government to hold its nerve. Militant union barons, with their huge pay packets and belligerent zealotry, cannot be allowed to dictate public spending levels via unsustainable demands. This is another test of the resolve of the new government.

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