British unions cautioned against facing off against the government
As British labour unions prepare to oppose vital austerity measures with a series of protest strikes, Business Minister Vince Cable is set to issue a warning to a union conference:
If they hold the delusions coalminers unions held in the 1980s, when they believed they could topple the Margaret Thatcher government, they need to think again. There are factions within the Conservative Party that are eager to crush them again, just as Thatcher crushed the coalminers' unions.
This leaves Cable in the position of the good cop to the Tories' bad cop.
In a leaked speech intended for an upcoming union conference, Cable is expected to state the following:
"The usual suspects will call for general strikes and widespread disruption. This will excite the usual media comments about 'a summer' or 'an autumn' of discontent. And another group of the usual suspects will exploit the situation to call for the tightening of strike law."
"We are undoubtedly entering a difficult period. Cool heads will be required all round. Despite occasional blips, I know that strike levels remain historically low, especially in the private sector. On that basis, and assuming this pattern continues, the case for changing strike law is not compelling."
"Should the position change, and should strikes impose serious damage to our economic and social fabric, the pressure on us to act would ratchet up. That is something which both you, and certainly I, would wish to avoid."
Among the Conservatives eager to strengthen strike law is London Mayor Boris Johnson, who wants legislation to declare that at least 50% of a union's members must participate in a strike vote. In other words, Johnson wants to ensure that a minority cannot decide for the majority.
It's a sound policy. And while Prime Minister David Cameron has stated that he prefers Thatcher's strike laws -- which limited the ability of unions to impose closed chops and increased the number of union members required for a quorum -- this would be a tremendous improvement.
The last time labour unions decided to take on a Conservative government they had backing from the Soviet Union, and they still lost.
They would be wise to listen to Vince Cable this time around, or Boris Johnson may succeed in making it harder for unions to intercede politically.