More tube strike chaos is coming for London as unions have announced two days of strike action is planned for later this month. As I have written about before, what enables the devastating impact of these strikes is a perverse piece of positive law.
The regulation that prohibits employment businesses from providing agency workers to cover the duties normally performed by an employee who is taking part in industrial action is a legacy of Tony Blair’s government. In 1997 Blair claimed his proposed changes would make “British law the most restrictive on trade unions in the Western World” and in some ways that’s true.
There are numerous procedural obstacles for unions to negotiate in order to lawfully go on strike, but the cost of navigating these obstacles is greatly outweighed by the benefit to union members of enforcing the power they possess over their employer – which is probably why there’s been roughly 40 strikes in the last 15 years.
The current government is proposing to scrap Regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003, which would allow agency workers (or even retired tube drivers, as one organisation has suggested) to be drafted in to work on the tube and provide at least some level of service to Londoners during strike action.
We should expect the unions to resist the current government’s proposals with all their might, perhaps even violently, because in the minds of their members this is a moral issue. They’re right that it’s an ethical problem, actually, but their mistake is in believing that they are the victims and that they are on the right side. In truth they are the aggressors and they are on the wrong side of the moral divide because what they believe is their ‘right’ is nothing more than the state of affairs manifested by an unjust law.
They believe The Law, that is the coercive apparatus of the State, is what gives them their rights as human beings. In other words they believe permissions are rights, but we don’t have rights because the law exists. The law, as we know it, exists and came into being because of the pre-existing moral principle widely held among men that individuals have a right to life and property, and thus to use force to defend them. The original and ideal purpose of the State is to protect Man’s natural or rational rights, that which he possesses by his mere nature and existence and which is the foundation of society. If indeed the State ever was merely this, and it’s a big if, then there is no denying that it has moved far beyond that now. But that’s another discussion entirely.
The right to withhold your labour, for whatever reason, is a proper right because the act of doing so does not restrict anyone else’s freedoms. But there can be no such thing as a right to not have your duties performed by someone else in your absence because that cannot be enforced without restricting your employers’ freedoms to use his property as he wishes.
As recent events and history has shown us, a group of aggressors who believe they are victims or on the right side of morality and some kind of crusaders for the greater good are a genuine threat to peace and prosperity.