In February 2014 the RMT managed to find an excuse to call a series of strikes that brought misery to the travelling public. In this case, as in many of these cases, the “majority vote” in favour of a strike is only a majority of those who voted, with the vast majority of union members not bothering to vote, allowing a small band of militants to be the tail wagging the union dog. This situation is unsatisfactory.
What to do about it? Heavy-handed anti-union legislation is something to be avoided if possible, so a lighter touch would be appropriate. Perhaps a possible answer would be to empower the general public to fight back against the militants. If the law was altered so that if industrial action is called when less than 50% of union members eligible to vote in the dispute have voted in favour of industrial action, then “interested third parties” (in most cases this will be Joe Public) can bring civil actions against the union to recover damages for any inconveniences caused, with the proviso that if union funds run out before all claims are settled, all union members eligible to have voted will have an unlimited liability towards the shortfall. Joe Public may act individually, or through transport users associations, and other such organisations, to bring class actions against wayward unions. Such actions will prove costly and long-winded, and should prove to be a deterrent against vexatious industrial action, initiated by a militant minority of union members.
Many of us remember the seventies, when the union barons ruled the roost and going on strike at the drop of a hat was known abroad as ‘the British disease’. Nobody (except the union barons) wants to go back to that situation, and in this day and age the transport industry, including the unions, should be seen to have a duty of care to the travelling public, as it is almost impossible for the public to take their business elsewhere.
There is also a considerable amount of taxpayer’s money poured into public transport, which keeps transport workers in the manner to which they have become accustomed. There is a grey legislative area between the two extremes of, either unions being above the law, or repression of trade unionism, and any legislation should keep well within these bounds. Such a legislative proposal is not anti-union legislation because industrial action can go ahead in the same way as it does now if it is the will of the majority of union members affected. Hopefully, this provision will encourage more union members to participate in the activities of their union, instead of just the militant minority, and even the union barons will find it hard to argue against this.
The precedent for this is that all taxpayers have to bear the brunt of the results of government actions, whether they have voted or not. It will hopefully be seen as the ordinary working man, not the government, passing judgement on the union action, and is the lightest touch possible to achieve the desired result.