By bashing the unions, the Tories are fighting the battles of the past

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The Independent Online

Strikes are anathema to personnel people, so if their professional body thinks government plans to clamp down on industrial action are a bad idea then ministers might do well to listen to it. On the face of it, it seems counter-intuitive for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development to be making a fuss. Its members are usually charged with dealing with the fallout from industrial disputes. Objecting to measures designed to restrict them seems like turkeys gathering at Santa’s HQ to cry roll on Christmas.

But on closer inspection, the CIPD has good reason to stand with those in opposition to the plans. For a start there is precious little evidence that they are needed. While certain disputes have been very visible recently – particularly those affecting London’s Underground – strikes generally have become rather rare.

As the CIPD points out, the number of working days lost annually to strikes has fallen to something like a tenth of the levels common in the 1980s. While some employers and unions still display antediluvian tendencies, they are not reflective of how things are done in most modern workplaces, where the two sides have found better and more cost-effective means of dealing with disputes – based on talking about them in good faith and finding compromises that are mutually acceptable.

Thus the CIPD is on the money when it accuses the Government of fighting the battles of the past and creating unnecessary friction. What it doesn’t comment upon, because it has to maintain working relationships with ministers, is the motivation for all the new regulations being prepared by a Government that claims to favour deregulation.

These appear to be born from a desire to score cheap points with the troglodytes in the party’s base – those that have a habit of kicking up if they feel ministers are in danger of straying too far from the Thatcherite flame. What, you’re worried that we’ve decided to make some compromises with those rotters from the EU? Well just you see how we’re beating up on those big bad union bosses. We’ll put ’em in their place.

Labour has been accused of retreating into the 1980s and the bad old days of the “loony left” with the impending election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. But is the “modern” Conservative Party really any different? It might trumpet its so-called living wage, and progressive measures such as the legalisation of gay marriage, but this reactionary and cynical retreat into knee-jerk union-bashing suggests that it isn’t. The 1980s remain alive in Westminster, if nowhere else. And MPs wonder why they’re seen as out of touch.

As the unnecessary sideshow of a “consultation” on the proposals draws to a close, the CIPD points out that the UK economy faces real challenges: solving the productivity crisis, for one. Saner heads in the Government might care to reflect that in most successful, modern economies, where that crisis doesn’t exist, co-operation is the watchword for handling labour relations.

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