If the trade unions were making an advert promoting strike action, I doubt they’d use London’s tube network as their case study. From their notorious strike in defence of a driver sacked after failing two alcohol breathalyser tests, to their current walk-out, which is purely aimed at stopping passengers from getting a better service, the tube unions are among the worst practitioners of the tactic.
Of course people have a right to join a union and to withdraw their labour if they wish (though it is odd there is no reciprocal right for employers to withdraw employment from those who do strike). Increasingly, both are anachronisms confined to the public sector - and public sector unions generate more strike days than their more reasonable counterparts in the private sector. As a result, the burden of strikes falls largely on taxpayers and users of public services.
It is bizarre that the behaviour of radical unions is actively facilitated by the state. Why should the taxpayer cough up £6 million a year in administrative costs in order to divert money direct from payroll into union coffers? It isn’t the job of the civil service to collect membership fees for any external organisation – still less for organisations which actively work to disrupt the work of that service and the agenda of a democratically elected government.
It is pleasing and sensible that the Government plans to stop doing so, and revealing that the unions themselves believe many of their members wouldn’t bother to sign up if they had to do something as simple as make a payment themselves.
There are other steps that ought to be taken to remove unfair and unjustified aid provided by the state to unions. While frustrated London commuters joke that they should go into driving tube trains instead, most don’t realise that they aren’t allowed to. At the demand of the RMT and other unions, Transport for London no longer recruits for the jobs externally. There is no technical or practical reason given for this – not even the over-stretched use of “safety” which they normally attempt. Instead they claim that recruiting fairly and openly would “weaken…workforce solidarity” – which is, as far as I can work out, code for “weaken the hold of the unions”.
What distinguishes existing TfL staff from external recruits? Are they somehow more able to be trained to drive a tube? Evidently not – in fact the only difference is that internal staff are more likely to be signed up RMT members. Closed shops are illegal in Britain, but this looks suspiciously like an attempt to reverse engineer one.
The Mayor and Transport for London should scrap this policy – the tube should have access to the best possible drivers, and all Londoners should have access to these remarkably cushy jobs.