Rishi Sunak Must Do a Maggie and Take On Militant Unions

COMMENTARY Europe

Rishi Sunak Must Do a Maggie and Take On Militant Unions

Jan 9, 2023 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Nile Gardiner, Ph.D.

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow

Nile Gardiner is director of The Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during his first major domestic speech of the year at Plexal, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on January 4, 2023 in London, England. Stefan Rousseau / WPA Pool / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Militant trade unions are once again attempting to hold Britain to ransom, as they successfully did before in the late 1970s.

The Prime Minister needs to demonstrate he has a backbone and is willing to fight for the people in the face of trade union villainy—no matter the hurdles.

Only time will tell if Sunak is prepared to follow Thatcher’s lead and do what is necessary.

Britain in 2023 is starting to look like Britain in 1984. Or 1979.

Militant trade unions are once again attempting to hold the country to ransom, as they successfully did before in the late 1970s, during the Winter of Discontent under the disastrous Labour premiership of James Callaghan.

Fortunately, Arthur Scargill, the 1980s-era hard-Left president of the powerful National Union of Mineworkers, is no longer menacing the nation.

Scargill was determined to face down the Conservative government of the time and was known for his pro-communist views and Marxist approach.

The infamous Miners’ Strike of 1984-85 was the last truly great strike of the modern era.

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In 1984 alone, 27 million working days were lost to industrial action.

But ultimately, Scargill’s demands failed and the NUM suffered an emphatic defeat.

Even the Labour Party abandoned him.

Maximum Damage

But his successors on the far Left today are determined to implement the same bully-boy tactics, by striking on trains, in hospitals and across the country.

Union leaders such as Mick Lynch, of the RMT, are the modern-day heirs to Scargill.

Callous, uncaring and with a dangerous, extreme socialist agenda, they operate with ruthlessness and sheer contempt for ordinary people.

It is once again the unions versus the people.

The militant unionists do not respect democracy and are hell-bent on inflicting maximum damage to the nation’s economy and immense misery upon the British public.

The worse conditions get, they believe, the more powerful their bargaining position and power to intimidate elected officials.

My former boss, Margaret Thatcher, stood up to Scargill and his thuggish tactics.

She would not be intimidated by union leaders who sought to destroy capitalism and the free market by borrowing the tactics of communist revolutionaries.

The Iron Lady understood that the only way to defeat the forces of the socialist Left was through strength and resolve.

She viewed militant unions as nefarious and fundamentally undemocratic institutions that suppressed the freedom of workers and forced them to be part of a “closed shop” of mandatory union membership, taxing them through onerous dues and threatening anyone who defied their orders to strike.

With hard-hitting legislation, including the Employment Acts of 1982, 1988, as well as the Trade Union Act of 1984, she ended the practice of “closed shop”, breaking the iron grip of union leaders and allowing unions to be fined and their funds subject to seizure if their industrial action was judged to be unlawful.

By the end of Lady Thatcher’s time in office in 1990, Britain saw the lowest number of labour stoppages since 1935, and the number of working days lost to strikes had fallen to 1950s levels.

Thatcherism had triumphed over the often violent and aggressive tactics of the unions.

Her efforts resulted in the liberation of millions of workers from the oppressive yoke of union power.

Rishi Sunak plans to get tough and bring forward his own anti-strike legislation.

He needs to tell defiant, grumbling strikers to get back to work or lose their jobs.

He needs to be ready to do battle against the “wets” in his own party, Labour and the Lords who will do all they can to water down his proposals.

The Prime Minister needs to demonstrate he has a backbone and is willing to fight for the people in the face of trade union villainy—no matter the hurdles along the way.

As members of our wonderful Armed Forces demonstrated over Christmas, union workers can be replaced and their jobs can be done more effectively by others, not least among the military.

As Thatcher did in the 1980s, Sunak’s administration must ensure that workers do not face bullying and intimidation by workmates who are in the union.

Sunak claims to be a Thatcherite. Now is the moment for him to prove it, by standing up to the union leaders who want to drag this great nation through the mud and put it down, strike by strike.

Titan for Freedom

If he projects strength and determination, the people will cheer him on.

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If he fails to act, Britain will face a new era of decline, with falling productivity, endless strikes and a culture of defeatism and despair.

Britain’s first woman Prime Minister was a titan for freedom at home and on the world stage and was the indefatigable destroyer of socialism.

Margaret Thatcher fought for liberty in the face of tyranny. We are for ever in her debt.

Sunak has to demonstrate that he is willing to advance Thatcher’s legacy, defend economic freedom and protect the public from the mindless wrath of the far Left—not just with words and promises, but with actions.

We need Thatcher-style strength and determination to take on the militant trade unions and win decisively.

Concession and compromise will get us nowhere. This is a moment for courage and conviction.

Only time will tell if Sunak is prepared to follow Thatcher’s lead and do what is necessary.

This piece originally appeared in The U.S. Sun