With-holding your labour is one of the most fundamental freedoms of a liberal capitalist democracy. We don’t force people to work if they don’t want to. However, the current rash of strikes seems to me to amount to more than that basic right. If they are politically motivated- designed to destabilise the Government, and presumably to achieve a Labour one instead- then they are much more questionable. Not only that, but their format and timings seem designed to hit the unfortunate private citizen hardest and to cause untold misery at Christmas. I do not believe that the majority of workers in public service occupations are comfortable with this position.
Industrial disputes should be resolved by negotiation, with striking being reserved as the ultimate sanction against an employer. The right to strike must always be balanced against the right of the general public to get on with their daily lives. It cannot be right that trade unions can, as in the case of the rail strikes, hold the country to ransom. That is why the government have announced a series of new laws on transport, including forcing the Union to put any payment offer to the workers in a secret ballot. (Labour, incidentally, say they would abolish that perfectly reasonable law- surprise, surprise, given their Trades Union paymasters)
The Government spent £16 billion – equivalent to £600 for every household in the UK – keeping the trains running through the pandemic, and ensuring that key workers could keep moving, so it is extremely disappointing that the unions have opted to carry out industrial action precisely at the point at which the railways are recovering. It should also not be forgotten that many of these workers would also have had their jobs supported and saved by the furlough scheme. Not only that, but many railway staff are already being paid far more than teachers, nurses and emergency workers. And all of them are paid more than the soldiers whose Christmases will be ruined to fill in for them.
As to the Royal Mail- we all know that we are sending fewer and fewer letters (even Christmas cards are probably down by a lot this year), so I am baffled both by why the Royal Mail believe that constantly putting the cost of stamps up to an unaffordable level will help, and why postmen and women think that striking and failing to deliver cards and parcels through the festive season will do their cause any good at all. They should resolve their dispute by reasonable discussion aimed at preserving our Royal Mail for the future.
Nurses are beloved of us all, and they are doing a magnificent job under very difficult circumstances, never more so than during the pandemic. We owe every nurse a huge debt of gratitude for the care they provide. The Government fully acknowledge that debt and have therefore honoured the recommendations of the independent pay review body with a roughly 5 per cent pay rise. Newly qualified nurses will typically earn over £31,000 a year including overtime and unsocial hours payments, with more experienced nurses on £41,000. I accept that no matter how much they are paid it will never truly reflect their wonderful dedication and care; but we also have to think about the other costs of the NHS.
The rash of strikes in these and other public sector professions may to some degree be justifiable. But they themselves produce inflation, which will get cemented into the economy and be much harder to reverse than price-driven inflation. They really should think about the greater good of the greater number; and above all, they should be aware of the consequences of their strike action on the everyday lives of ordinary people. They have a right to strike, but they should not, in my view, be exercising it.