THE picket lines have been prepared. The placards are ready.
Today, the public sector trade unions hope to mount the biggest day of industrial action for decades, as teachers, rail workers, university lecturers, civil servants and bus drivers all walk out of their jobs.
3The public sector trade unions hope to mount the biggest day of industrial action for decadesCredit: PA3The parrot cry from the militants is that the Government should ‘get round the table’Credit: PAMore than half a million employees are likely to take part in the mass dispute, with 124 government offices hit, 23,000 schools affected and most of the transport system paralysed.
The stoppages will be accompanied by major protests, led by the TUC, against Tory government plans to restrict the right to strike in vital state services.
Nor is there a sign of any end to the turmoil. Next week there could be further walkouts by NHS staff, including ambulance crews, while the Fire Brigades Union has just voted overwhelmingly for action.
Equally aggrieved are the junior doctors of the British Medical Association, who are threatening to down stethoscopes in support of their demand for a 26 per cent pay rise.
The public might despair of all this chaos but the militants are relishing every moment, intoxicated by their apparent power to hold the nation to ransom.
With their clenched fists and noisy megaphones, they like to pose as the heroic champions of the downtrodden proletariat in the resistance to Conservative rule.
That kind of quasi-revolutionary fantasy explains why their language is so overblown, as highlighted by their constant claims that their members are now forced to use food banks because of poverty pay.
But this fashionable narrative of oppression has little credibility.
Many of those striking today earn more than the average private sector workesr, while they also enjoy far bigger pensions, greater job security, longer holidays, shorter hours and better conditions.
Yes, times are tough because of inflation, but that is true for nearly all households across the country.
The parrot cry from the militants is that the Government should “get round the table” and thrash out a series of deals.
But in reality, such an approach would be disastrous. The country requires resolution in the face of union bullying, not a surrender to politically motivated blackmail.
For a start, the bill for meeting the strikers’ pay demands is simply unaffordable.
According to Health Secretary Steve Barclay, an inflation-matching rise across the public sector would cost at least £28billion, the equivalent of £1,000 for every British household.
Any settlement like that would require either massive cuts in services or huge tax increases, at a time when the tax burden is at its highest since the 1940s.
3According to Health Secretary Steve Barclay, an inflation-matching rise across the public sector would cost at least £28billionCredit: AlamyWhat the public sector needs is real reform, not ruinous cash payments to failing organisationsGiven that many unions are demanding above-inflation rises, the price of any cave-in could actually be much higher.
The Royal College of Nursing, for instance, is demanding 17 per cent, while the NEU teaching union wants 12 per cent.
Moreover, a generous settlement would only embolden the troublemakers as they scent ministerial weakness.
That is precisely what happened in the 1970s when the Labour Government’s craven posture of submission fuelled irresponsible union extremism and soaring inflation.
Just as false is the unions’ argument that generous pay settlements are the key to improving public services.
In 2004 Tony Blair’s Government, in one of the worst negotiating ploys in modern British history, agreed to give GPs more pay in return for working fewer hours and ending traditional out-of-hours duties.
Family practices have been in drastic decline ever since, one prime reason that the NHS is in such a crisis, with accident and emergency units overwhelmed.
Lavish pay deals will just cement chronic inefficiencies, low productivity and outdated working practices.
What the public sector needs is real reform, not ruinous cash payments to failing organisations.
The unions think they have the embattled Tory Government over a barrel, but in reality, the tinpot radicals are in a much weaker position than they can admit.
So far the strikes have had nothing like the impact they hoped, partly because more flexible work patterns have enabled the public to cope better than in the past and partly because some services are now so dire — like the NHS — that more disruption is hard to notice.
In addition, some industrial action just exposes how ineffective certain services really are.
When Border Force officials walked out recently, immigration controls actually worked more smoothly.
Union membership has halved since the 1970s. Their bosses now are no longer the authentic voice of the working class but just the noisy defenders of public sector vested interests.
Their narrow base should encourage the Government to come off the defensive and take the attack to them.
Ministers are right to push legislation through Parliament which will require the unions to provide a minimum level of service in important public services such as education, health, transport and border security.
But they could go much further, such as extending a ban on strike action to the fire brigades and ambulance crews.
If the police, Army and prison workers cannot strike, why should firefighters and paramedics be allowed to do so?
Similarly the Government should stipulate that a strike will only be legal if it has the support of the absolute majority of the entire union membership in a ballot.
At present the threshold is just 40 per cent, so the minority can dictate the policy.
At the same time, unions should be required to give at least a fortnight’s notice of a strike to employers, as opposed to the present obligation of just one week.
In addition, each separate walkout should need its own mandate at the ballot box.
At present unions can call an endless programme of stoppages simply on the basis of one vote that could have been held months ago.
Above all, the Government should end the unique legal immunity trade unions enjoy from being sued for damages that arise from their actions.
No other corporation, individual or firm has this kind of privilege. It is an anachronism from the Edwardian age and should be abolished.
If commuters could sue the RMT, parents the NEU and patients the BMA, the strikes would soon end.
There is nothing cruel or reactionary about curbing union power.
On the contrary, it is the dominance of the militants which is damaging our public services.
Story Credit: thesun.co.uk