A trail blazed by Thatcher and Reagan

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The Independent Online

Nicholas Sarkozy's confrontation with the workforce echoes that of Margaret Thatcher in her relentless desire to crush the power of trade unions and to privatise industry.

In 1979-90 Mrs Thatcher passed a series of measures that profoundly changed labour relations. The 1982 Employment Act curbed the so-called "closed shop", making it impossible for an employee to be sacked for not being a union member. Secret ballots – eventually made compulsory – dented the power of union leaders to decide on strikes. Secondary picketing and unions' legal immunity were banned. Once the miners' strike, led by Arthur Scargill, collapsed in the mid-1980s, the unions were effectively silenced.

Meanwhile, Mrs Thatcher unleashed a privatisation "revolution" on industries including coal, iron and steel, utilities, airlines and telecommunications.

Across the Atlantic, Ronald Reagan mirrored her monetarist, neo-liberal approach. Indeed, she was described by Hugo Young in his biography of her as "a kind of Baptist to Reagan's Messiah."

In 1981, the President fired 13,000 striking air-traffic controllers and destroyed their union in a move described by The Washington Post as "an unambiguous signal that employers need feel little or no obligation to their workers". He gave federal powers to union opponents, appointed businessmen to the labour relations board and set up a commission on privatisation.

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