Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will not rule out the possibility of a ban on tube strikes in the next Tory election manifesto.
The PM has backed calls for strikes to be banned and replaced with binding arbitration in an interview with the BBC for the Sunday Politics show.
Although there has actually only been one tube strike in the last year (Boxing Day 2012), 59% of Londoners think it’s too easy for tube workers to strike, according to a Conservative-commissioned GLA poll. 47% were in favour of a ban on striking. We suspect the frequency of strike ballots by the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) have misled people into believing strikes to be far more common than they are. The PM told the BBC:
“I think it would be much better if we could get to a situation where there was always mediation when these disputes came up rather than the strikes we have seen in recent years. So seeing fewer strikes in our public services, that is something I would support.”
Cameron’s comments predictably brought RMT general secretary Bob Crow out fighting, who said the prime minister was attacking ‘the most basic of human rights’. We suspect essentials to life like water, food and shelter might come higher than striking in most people’s priorities but Crow rarely holds back on the hyperbole:
“Throughout history hard-right governments of the rich, for the rich, have swung the axe at the unions and it will be Tube workers today and firefighters and nurses tomorrow.”
The thing is, for once we agree with Crow (we know!). Much as we all find tube strikes irksome and we’ve certainly been critical of them in the past, we can’t see anything good coming out of a ban on striking. It’s very much knee-jerk politics which are rarely effective and set all kinds of unpleasant precedents. And as we’ve pointed out previously, a ban on striking plus loss of pay in New York didn’t prevent subway workers walking out.
Cameron’s sudden and renewed interest in strike bans must irritate and mollify London mayor Boris Johnson in equal measures — Johnson has spent the last three years calling upon the government to support his election manifesto pledge to end strikes. Despite some initial interest from the PM, Johnson failed in his bid to secure government backing. Invoking Godwin’s Law, the RMT condemned the Tories as being ‘like Hitler’ over strike ban proposals at the time.
The interview with the Prime Minister will be shown on this weekend’s BBC Sunday Politics show.
Photo by Annie Mole in the Londonist Flickr pool.