How the Tories can win over the strikers
A high-wage, pro-labour vision could bring the unions on side
Britain is beset with strikes and industrial action. Nadhim Zahawi has been fired as Conservative Party chairman over his tax affairs. And our Prime Minister, as seen in conversation with Piers Morgan last night, is unable to counter suggestions that he is ‘stinking rich’. In light of this increasingly apparent divide between a plutocratic ruling class and a forsaken public sector, it is worth asking what happened to pro-worker conservatism, only recently cast as the new governing philosophy of the resurgent Tories.
With the 80-seat parliamentary majority won from former Labour constituencies in the North and the Midlands — the so-called ‘Red Wall’ — only a few years ago, the Tories looked set to upend the country’s long-standing electoral geography. Back then, they were in position to forge a new cross-class coalition between the middle classes of the south east and the working classes of the Red Wall.
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Now, the party appears to be mired in tax dodging, while Tory MPs are lining up to announce they will not be standing at the next election. Turning the screws on the labour unions by further restricting the right to strike is an indication not only of our political elite’s instinctive authoritarianism, but also of their inability to resolve or mediate social conflict. This conflict will only grow in the face of rising inflation, rising interest rates and economic stagnation.
UnHerd’s own poll shows Red Wall voters turning against Brexit, the issue for which they famously ‘lent’ their votes to the Tories in the general election of 2019. Boris Johnson, who campaigned on promises of ‘levelling up’ and then notoriously opted for a trip to Kyiv over a party meeting in Doncaster last year, has now fully abandoned the Red Wall, preferring to lobby for arms shipments to Ukraine rather than invest in the North.
Despite the Tories’ troubles, there is at least one obvious route out of this political farrago, and through which they might once again stake their claim to a pro-worker conservatism that could shore up a new electoral coalition for the 21st century. Instead of seeking to browbeat the unions with yet more restrictions on civil liberties and freedom of association, why not aim to cut a deal and divide them?
The Tories could bring union members on side by offering enhanced pay deals to the more working-class unions — bus and railway workers, postal staff, firefighters, nurses and paramedics — and divide them from the Zoom workers in the academics’ and teachers’ unions. This latter class could be left to film their picket line dances on their own, no longer able to LARP as proletarians having lost the opportunity to rub shoulders on protests with bus and railway workers.
In any case, given that the leaders of the academics and teachers’ unions are concerned more with decolonising the curriculum than with their members’ pay, their antics would doubtless still provide the Tories with plenty of culture war fodder for Daily Mail headlines about the ‘loony Left’. Thus, the Conservatives could still pursue a culture war while doing grown-up politics.
It’s true that it’s difficult to imagine Rishi Sunak welcoming Mick Lynch to No. 10 for a new era of ‘beer and sandwiches’ with the Prime Minister, but he could at least let Kemi Badenoch do it, as she sees the political advantage in appealing to union members. Even if such a strategy would be too late now to win the Tories the next election, it could at least lay the groundwork for taking power back from Labour in the not so distant future with a high-wage, pro-worker vision.
So why do the Tories not take this obvious route? One look into Sunak’s earnest, wide-eyed stare is enough to explain it. The Tories are led by Thatcherite nerds and blowhards who totally lack their idol’s political nous and ideological conviction. They certainly appreciate making money — as Zahawi shows — but they don’t understand that politics means winning people over. That includes your opponents, Rishi.
Doing a deal with Lynch would be toxic. The man wants to destroy this country. Thatcher stared the unions down.
There are millions trying to prop up their own businesses who haven’t had a pay rise in years. These are small business owners, office cleaners, garage mechanics, painters, decorators, the kinds of people journos employ but don’t understand.
And with the culture wars raging as they do – neither the media, nor the judiciary nor many MPs now seem to know the difference between a man and a woman – there is opportunity to build bridges and common cause with those communities up and down the country whose voice is never heard in London-centric la-la land.
But they all vote and could return an ambitious and courageous Tory party back to power. All yours Rish.
“The man wants to destroy this country.”
Really. Oh dear. When one reads self-pitying paranoid hyperbole on that scale, don’t expect much consistency in the remainder of the post.
Do you know that as a corroborated fact, or is it just some Tory tommyrot you’ve read somewhere?
So, your contention is that asking for more money (which essentially is what Mr. Lynch et al do) is “destroying the country”?
Interesting. Anytime I (in my well-paid white-collar job) sought more money, I never for a second equated such a request with an act of national vandalism.
“There are millions trying to prop up their own businesses who haven’t had a pay rise in years. These are small business owners, office cleaners, garage mechanics, painters, decorators, the kinds of people journos employ but don’t understand.”
Correct. And now you sound like Mick Lynch.
They aren’t just ‘asking for a pay rise’ but attempting to hold the country to random to achieve it. You didn’t go on strike did you? And perhaps had you done so you would have been shown the door pretty quickly.
The idea that this is all about some stingy and nasty government deliberately trying to withhold plentiful government money and harming ordinary people is just daft. You may recall that we had huge numbers of strikes in the 1970s under Labour governments. Pay rises without any rise in productivity are unaffordable in the long term as almost any economist would attest. The people with the greatest industrial muscle should be paid the most.
What you imply is that those very small business owners and workers in private business should pay more tax in order to pay off workers in the grossly inefficient public sector and quasi public sector (railway staff).
Why shouldn’t they go on strike? Withdrawing your labour is one of the few tools available to these workers in order to make sure their pay keeps pace with inflation.
Why should their pay keep pace with inflation without corresponding productivity rises? The rest of us are all paying more tax in order to fund their pensions, which they don’t seem to mention.
They’re mainly striking against automation, i.e the move to driver-only on the smaller trains, as is the case on many routes already and in many European countries. (or driverless like the DLR) Their Luddism is a productivity drag – they should be paid less if they want to keep two person trains where they’re no longer needed.
Productivity hasn’t dropped, so why shouldn’t pay rise in line with inflation? Anything less is a pay cut
Frank, downvoted for your display of brattishness.
This isn’t the 1970s, and saying that a union leader “wants to destroy the country” by demanding a better deal for his members is ridiculous. We already have a heavily de-unionised workforce, with the inequality and insecurity that that brings. Most people support the strikers and think the government has handled the situation very badly. I’m afraid this kind of reheated Thatcherism is totally out of step with the economic and social reality of today. The free-market experiment has run its course and the results aren’t good.
Well it could return to the 1970s pretty quickly, and of course with your side’s insistence that we need much more of the workforce in unions we would do so all the more rapidly. The public are split but more people oppose the rail strikes than support them, and the proportion is likely to be much greater for that (minority) of the population relying on rail transport to get to work.
Well, we should just bring in migrant workers to replace them.
That is the merciless logic of untrammeled, unregulated labour markets and we know where that leads: a race to the bottom for wages and quality of life.
Perhaps “your side” (whichever that is; unlike yourself, I don’t presume to know) would welcome that, but I certainly wouldn’t and neither would a majority of the public.
If only they WERE Thatcherite ‘nerds’ we might be better off. Unfortunately, they do not understand the message nor did they wish to understand the messenger!
Thatcher would struggle these days, there would be no state owned assets for her to sell to mask her economic incompetence
Absolutely spot on. She was a one trick pony gifted with a unique set of circumstances. All she had to do was destroy. What we’re seeing now is the inevitable consequence of the prioritisation of shareholders over both customers and employees. We’re in the closing stages of a game of Monopoly, everybody except the one with hotels on Park Lane and Mayfair is fed up and wants to kick the table over.
Our bloated, inefficient, disgruntled and self infatuated public service sector needs to be put on a severe diet and forced to face up to some hard economic truths. However, the clear and present danger is that it will go on guzzling an ever increasing share of the national pie, until we all collapse, exhausted and spent, under its unsupportable weight.
Tactically the idea of some ‘divide and rule’ strategy has been deployed already by Tory strategists. Like the Author they want to divide the poorer from the strikers, ignoring all those who’ve actually done much better in recent pay settlements – BT, Banks etc.
Author is also somewhat blinded by his own prejudices. For example settling the Lecturers/Teachers is relatively cheap compared to Nurses. Three to four times cheaper depending on where a settlement might land. So a pyrrhic victory to settle the Nurses/NHS workers and leave Teachers to ‘go hang’ if following the Authors tactical suggestion? The disruption to families from school strikes would remain considerable and to have settled with one group and not the other would look indefensible quite quickly to the broader Public.
The other thing often lost on the Tories is because it’s already v difficult to get a strike vote legally passed one can darn well be assured the membership are adamant and committed when it does happen. This is no longer the day where a Union leadership can drag a membership out on strike alone.
And then that combines with the fact Public support remains pretty strong. Perhaps weaker for Train drivers (ASLEF), and a struggle sometimes for Mick Lynch to convey he doesn’t actually represent the best paid train drivers, but overall Public is with the strikers and not the Tories to date. That probably also shows how fed up they are with broken promises.
Govt has some fiscal room for some decent settlements. The winter fuel subsidy costs will not be as bad as expected. The cost of continuing disruption may well be outweighed by the loss in tax revenues and increase in benefits from job losses resulting. So at some point they will and have to settle.
Yeah, the government could do divide and conquer between the teaching unions and other unions if it made them feel better and look tough. The only thing is that it wouldn’t do anything at all to tackle the real issue and fill the vacancies that have arisen from teachers’ pay falling by 13% (or over 20% if you use RPI) in real terms over the last decade.
What’re you smoking, mate?
You’ve flown well off the radar when you consider there is any version of reality in which the Tories willingly will give more money to plebs:
This is a truly ridiculous statement. How did those terrible Tories manage to con the British public to vote for them for 2/3 of the time since 1945? Rich people bad, poorer people all victims.
If socialism was the answer we’d already live in a paradise, the Soviet Union would have been the wealthiest country in the world and there would be no remaining political debate, at least on economic issues.
There has never been, and never will be a society where everyone is equal, certainly not excluding every known socialist state (where by the way they shot or imprisoned workers demanding higher wages!)
“What’re you smoking, mate?”
You are a kid trying, and failing, to sounds like an adult.
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