Ah, good old Len McCluskey. Having taken up the mantle of 'Most Despicable Union Firebrand' vacated by the late Bob Crow, he appears as more of a caricature every time he inflicts his spittle-laced socialism on some poor unsuspecting microphone. Unfortunately for the general public, the Unite General Secretary's snarling features are going to be an omnipresent sight as the Conservatives start to push through some much-needed, and long overdue strike reform.
This will be a battle as full of spite and vitriol as it is of policies and civil debate. To the majority of the public, the unions are an outdated behemoth, holding ordinary citizens to ransom every time they get their collective red undies in a twist. One only need glance at social media during the recent tube strike to witness a simmering national discontent with the brash, bullying behaviour of the unions. Were they an important mechanism in ensuring workers' rights at one point in time? Absolutely. However, in a modern era of living wages, legally supported workers' rights, and media advocacy, to allow them a level of control tantamount to an on/off switch for public services is frankly ludicrous.
The unions, and their heavily financed Labour support, have already cried foul, claiming that the Tories are trying to abolish the right to strike and eventually dissolve the unions. That is simply untrue. As with most cases of this nature, the hyperbolic whinging of the Left clouds the actual facts, with the same tired, dusty mantra of 'Evil Tories' being trotted out time and again (and don't forget the obligatory hateful reference to Maggie and the miners - despite more pits closing under Wilson than Thatcher). What the Conservatives are striving to achieve here is a modicum of fairness: a 50% turnout for a ballot to stand, with an additional requirement of 40% membership support for any action involving key services. This is just common sense. Under current legislation, a tiny minority of disgruntled union stooges can hold entire cities to ransom. The new legislation would allow for strikes, but only when a suitable amount of the union membership feels strongly enough to vote for it.
The Left have been eager to point out that these sort of turnout and minimum mandate requirements do not apply to the current government, so why should it apply to their beloved unions? The answer is simple. A functioning elected government is necessary for the day-to-day operations of a democratic nation. A strike to public services is the precise antithesis of that - it is a purposefully abnormal action designed to bring a part, be it geographical or sectoral, of a nation to a standstill, and therefore should be subject to more stringent legislation. Government is the status quo; strikes are extraordinary events.
When the general public are shocked by the level of earnings by some union members and are fed up with the constant toys-out-of-pram approach to negotiations, surely it is time for the unions to recognise that, rather than representing all working-class people as they claim, they really only represent a small, bitter minority of workers. Len McCluskey has called for a change to the rules of Unite which would allow workers to strike in contravention with UK law. It's easy - isn't it Len - to sit in an office, hauling in £100k+ per year, and send your members to the slaughter. One has to wonder whether he will be prepared to meet all court costs incurred by these illicit strikers. The unions need to wake up and finally realise that they have lost virtually all remaining public goodwill. If they truly want to remain as a viable workers' resource in the 21st century, they should beware their leadership: the likes of McCluskey are no longer mere 'firebrands' and 'sparkplugs' (as they have been christened by the press) - they are narcissistic dictators who ultimately, through their own pigheaded arrogance, will take down the unions all by themselves.