Transport Disruptions and How to Stop Them

In the South-East of England we are suffering from major transport disruptions. First from rail strikes affecting London commuters and second by the activities of Just Stop Oil on the road network.

The RMT union have announced further strikes on November 3, 5 and 7 and are balloting their members on pursuing them for another six months. I issued a tweet yesterday which suggested the way to stop these strikes was to give an ultimatum to employees to either work normally or get fired. The problem is that train drivers are so highly paid that a few days out is affordable.

Rather surprisingly I got a response from the RMT which said “In your haste to sound draconian you’ve not considered who would staff the railway or train the replacements if you’ve fired them all? Nothing would move for years!!”.

My response was “Well it worked when Ronald Reagan did it for air traffic controllers, did it not?”. This refers to the events in August 1981 in the USA. To quote from Wikipedia: “After PATCO workers’ refusal to return to work [over a pay dispute], the Reagan administration fired the 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored the order, and banned them from federal service for life. In the wake of the strike and mass firings, the FAA was faced with the difficult task of hiring and training enough controllers to replace those that had been fired. Under normal conditions, it took three years to train new controllers. Until replacements could be trained, the vacant positions were temporarily filled with a mix of non-participating controllers, supervisors, staff personnel, some non-rated personnel, military controllers, and controllers transferred temporarily from other facilities”.

The US airlines continued operations with minimal disruptions and the Reagan move had a significant impact on union activities in other organisations effectively resetting labour relationships in the USA. Strikes fell in subsequent years. From 370 major strikes in 1970 the number fell to 11 in 2010, and it had a positive effect in reducing inflation.

Just as Margaret Thatcher handled the coal miners in the UK, Reagan’s firm resolve on facing up to the unions created a new and better culture.

As regards the Just Stop Oil (JSO) campaign the closure of the Dartford Bridge created enormous traffic jams and delayed people for many hours. The whole of south-east London was affected as many people commute around the M25. The Metropolitan Police tweeted they had “made 404 arrests linked to JSO activity. We have needed nearly 5500 officer shifts diverted from local communities in London, to deal with the serious disruption caused by this activity”. The total cost including the delays to people must be many millions of pounds.

The Police seem to be totally ineffective in stopping the activities of JSO. People get arrested but then released. Fines, if any, are minimal. There is a Bill currently going through Parliament that might assist – The Public Order Bill – see https://www.parallelparliament.co.uk/bills/2022-23/publicorder . It creates a number of new offences relating to “locking-on”, obstructing major transport works and interfering with the use or operation of key national infrastructure. It also confers preventative powers for the police to search for and seize articles related to protest-related offences and provides for a new preventative court order, the Serious Disruption Prevention Order, to disrupt the activities of repeat offenders”. But will it be applied vigorously?

The Police already have considerable powers that are not used and JSO could be proscribed as a “terrorist organisation” as they meet the criteria. Let us hope the Public Order Bill is passed quickly. But it’s really down to the Government to take a lead on this matter even if they may be distracted by financial matters at present.

Peaceful demonstrations are OK but disruption to normal life should not be permitted under any circumstances.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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