Cameron Penny is a financial services lobbyist.
In the dark days of the financial crisis, the 8th October 2008 to be exact, a Labour Government issued an extraordinary piece of legislation. It affected one of the Icelandic banks that had grown massively in the years before the crisis as it hoovered up deposits offering people, including many Brits, very attractive interest rates.
The Landsbanki Freezing Order 2008 used the provisions of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 to list the bank (Landsbanki) and the Government of a friendly nation (Iceland) as “specified persons” which also froze all funds “owned, held or controlled by Landsbanki”. This legislation made it a criminal offence to deal with or make those frozen funds available to Landsbanki and the Icelandic Government.
Unsurprisingly the decision caused significant controversy in Iceland. A website was set up for Icelanders to sign a petition declaring “we are not terrorists.” Sensing some blowback from this decision the Treasury clarified that it did not view the bank as an agent of terrorism. Or the Icelandic Government as a terrorist regime. No doubt that came as a relief to observers of international affairs…
More seriously, the Treasury’s intervention and its willingness to use anti-terror legislation was based on grave concerns “about the detrimental effect on the UK economy of the current situation”. The Government agreed that when faced with a significant economic threat it was appropriate to use anti-terror legislation to safeguard the economic health of the nation.
The loss of deposits in Landsbanki and other Icelandic banks such as Icesave would not have been enough to bring down the banking system in and of itself but the Treasury’s decisive action helped to bolster confidence. The action to freeze Landsbanki’s assets was one which prevented greater damage at a moment of crisis. This memory should be in the Government’s thinking as it surveys the damage done to the economy of London, the South East, and the rest of the country, by today’s tube and rail strikes.
The ongoing crisis at Southern Rail has brought misery and economic hardship to hundreds of thousands of people. When taking into account the knock on impacts for families and businesses the impact of highly-paid transport union members going on strike is felt by millions of people.
This isn’t just a problem for the capital; already the belligerent leadership of the RMT is threatening to mobilise its members to strike on the Arriva Rail North franchise despite an above-inflation pay offer. If it goes ahead, millions more in the great cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle and Sheffield will feel what it’s like to live under the yoke of Mick Cash and his generously pensioned members who feel able to dictate lavish remuneration and holiday entitlements out of all proportion to the demands of their jobs.
On the other side are the commuters who pay for all of this. Many are paid far less than the average train driver and they certainly don’t get five, six or seven weeks or more of annual holiday. The anger that ASLEF, the RMT and TSSA are stoking is palpable whilst the Secretary of State laments the fact “I don’t have the power to order people back to work.” Like all good Conservatives though, Mr Grayling knows it’s folly to call for new laws when you have existing ones that will work just as well.
To deal with the crisis in our transport network, which now threatens to engulf the country, the Government can take a leaf out of Alistair Darling’s book. It should state its intention to list ASLEF, the RMT and TSSA as proscribed organisations as per the terms of the Terrorism Act 2000. It would not have far to go for justification; the President of the RMT is on the record calling for the destruction of capitalism and admits to working to “bring down this bloody working-class-hating Tory government.”
Meanwhile the actions of these unions more than meets the demands of the act that actions are terrorist in nature if they “involve serious damage to property” or “create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public”. The tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions in lost revenue and productivity since these strikes started is a direct attack on the economic health and property of the nation.
Whilst today’s scenes at London transport hubs only confirm that the transport unions have no concern for public safety – only in lining their own pockets. That they will endanger public safety to make their point puts them beneath contempt.
The ramifications of joining the ranks of Ansar Al Islam and ETA should be clear even to the most unreasonable trade union leader. What is also clear is we don’t need more laws with anti-strike provisions. We need the Government to bring the transport unions to heel and to do so using the powers and precedents from previous moments of national crisis.
Millions of people, hundreds of thousands of commuters, and probably a few dozen MPs in marginal seats will thank them for it.