If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday, 4 October 2010

In which I disagree with Boris

I'm a big fan of Boris Johnson - one of the few bits of genuine colour and individuality in our entire political scene. But I have to disagree with him over his latest pronouncement.

Writing in the Telegraph, Boris condemns the latest round of Tube strikes, and says:

It simply cannot be right that a little over 3,000 people should be able to disrupt – or to attempt to disrupt – the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. The Government should consider a law insisting on a minimum 50 per cent participation in a strike ballot.

The Government should have no role in regulating the affairs of a private organisation. I would say that about a club, or a society, or a private business, and I say the same about a Trade Union. The law should not prescribe the proportion of members, nor the percentage of votes, that are necessary to make a strike valid. A Union can be as silly as it likes, saying that 5% of votes in favour of a strike, and at least 5% of members voting, is enough to trigger industrial action, as far as I am concerned. As long as the members are happy with that, the law has no place in changing it to anything different.

There is a change in the law that I would support, however, which would ensure that coercive, destructive and politically-motivated strikes are a thing of the past. Simply remove the special protection that Unions have when they choose to break the law of contract. If a worker chooses to break the terms of his or her employment contract in an attempt to coerce the employer, then the employer should be able to consider that contract void, and look for someone else to do the work.

I fully support the right to strike - in the sense of the right to withdraw one's labour. No-one should be forced to work against his or her will: that would be slavery. But no-one should be able to walk out of a job on a whim and expect it to be waiting for them when they decide to go back. That might make union members think a little harder before deciding to make the lives of thousands of others a misery or put costs on the business that the business cannot afford. The current arrangement puts the employer in an invidious position, and is a perfect example of a right without a corresponding responsibility.

If Governments tinker with the details - 60% here, 40% there - they are simply legitimising an arrangement that is fundamentally wrong.

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