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Spalding-area MP says current rail strikes echo those of 1926

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In his weekly Hayes in the House column, MP Sir John Hayes discusses union action...

In 1926 Britain faced and faced down a General Strike, with militant transport unions at its core. Demanding that Government prop up unsustainable wages, they aimed to disrupt the whole country. It provoked a patriotic response which saw volunteers from all walks of life, rallied by Winston Churchill as then-editor of the British Gazette, doing the jobs of strikers.

Almost 100 years later, the source and aim of the national disruption to rail services that continue to be threatened echoes the extremes of yesteryear’s strikes. The intent is to force rail companies to accede to demands for huge pay increases by disrupting the lives and limiting the life chances of working people prevented from going about their daily business.

Some railway stations closed during recent strikes (58050221)
Some railway stations closed during recent strikes (58050221)

Many of those so affected are, of course, trade unionists themselves, who know that responsible unions have a vital role to play in a free society as champions of the interests of workers. At their best, Unions exemplify the defence of the dignity of labour.

Nevertheless, the kind of militancy that many had forgotten and some never knew, has re-emerged at a time of national economic challenge. Seizing on the fear of inflation, union bosses are collaborating to trigger a summer of discontent. ASLEF, the train drivers’
union, has balloted 10 different train companies,
potentially triggering the first national rail walkout since 1995. Already, the drivers of eight rail companies will strike later this month, and RMT have called for more strikes by drivers from 14 train companies at the end of August. The militancy of these unions is clear to see, as they threaten to shut down 90% of train services and cripple national transport links.

Some may dismiss the results of this action as mere inconvenience, but for many Britons it means being
absent from work, being unable to give essential care to someone in need, missing school exams or excluding our numerous everyday
social obligations.

The plain fact is that rail use has declined. With millions fewer passenger journeys than before the pandemic, the Union’s
demands for large pay rises and an end to modernisations which would make railways more efficient, defy commercial reality.

The difference between Union bosses and the public is the former’s willingness to use privileged positions – protected at great expense during the Pandemic - to blackmail the British people into emptying the public purse by withdrawing essential public services

Margaret Thatcher curbed the power of union bosses, like Arthur Scargill, to inflict harm through industrial action, by requiring democratic strike ballots, outlawing secondary action and threatening union
assets if they went ahead with illegality. She was right to do so.

Before her time,
successive British Prime Ministers struggled to constrain the muscle of over-mighty union barons.

My father, once a trade union shop steward, knew that unions should be mindful of the interests of all. Social solidarity and the harmony it brings, require nothing less.

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