RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: the panacea for all industrial strife known to man

RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: It’s the panacea for all industrial strife known to man… For the unions, the answer to life, the universe and everything is – Get round the table

Get round the table. That’s all the unions are asking. What could be simpler? These strikes could be solved in a heartbeat if only ministers would get round the table.

If I’ve heard ‘get round the table’ once over the past couple of weeks, I’ve heard it a thousand times.

Mick Lynch, leader of the railway workers, said it again yesterday. The Government needs to get round the table.

His oppo from the train drivers’ union Aslef — aka Asleep — was equally adamant. All his members want is for ministers to get round the table.

‘It’s the same old song from Mick Lynch and the rest of the trades union militants hellbent on using the pretext of strikes over the cost of living to bring down a democratically elected Tory Government they hate.’ Pictured: Mick Lynch (left) with assistant general secretary of the RMT, London, January 12, 2023

Same goes for the NHS staff. The woman who runs the nurses’ union insists all it would take to end the current dispute over pay is for the Government to get round the table.

Getting round the table is now the accepted wisdom, the universal panacea for all industrial strife known to man.

Watch any TV news bulletin and the presenter will always ask Government spokesmen why ministers won’t get round the table, even when the minister in question has just spent the past few hours doing precisely that — getting round the table.

Yesterday, one union leader — I forget which, they all sound the same these days — emerged from a round-table meeting with a minister and complained that the outstanding problem was that minister he’d just been sitting across the table from wouldn’t get round the table with him.

Meanwhile, as 100,000 civil servants gear up to go on strike, too, their leaders are demanding that the Government gets round the table.

Nobody ever wonders how ministers are supposed to get round the table with civil servants, since most of them — from the Foreign Office to the DVLA — won’t even deign to turn up for work any more. For the past nearly three years, the offices of our self-proclaimed ‘Rolls-Royce’ civil service have resembled the poop deck of the Mary Celeste.

If they won’t sit behind their desks these days, how is anyone expected to get round the table with them?

The only table the vast majority of our civil servants have been getting round lately is their own kitchen table, stuffing their faces with Hobnobs while congratulating themselves on how much money they are saving not having to go into work.

And despite not having lost a penny in wages during Covid, they have now convinced themselves that they deserve a huge pay rise.

‘We used to call it ‘Rollerball’ as workers chased each other round in deranged pursuit of ever-higher and increasingly unaffordable wage rises. That way lies ruin.’

Of course, they don’t put it like that. They claim they merely want ministers to get round the table.

It’s the same old song from Mick Lynch and the rest of the trades union militants hellbent on using the pretext of strikes over the cost of living to bring down a democratically elected Tory Government they hate.

None of his members lost money during Covid, either. The Government spent the thick end of £13 billion in subsidy to keep the railways open throughout the pandemic, despite the fact that practically nobody was using them.

Even though the rail operators are nominally private companies, the unions still behave as if they are nationalised.

As I have been pointing out since the beginning of this alleged re-run of the 1978/9 Winter of Discontent, all of those striking, or planning to go on strike, are employed in the public sector, or quasi-public sector.

And, inflation aside, none of them suffered a pay cut because of Covid — unlike millions of people either self-employed or working for private companies.

Let’s agree that in a perfect world nurses would get paid more. But we don’t live in a perfect world and, as Fraser Nelson in the Spectator magazine has illustrated, taking perks and pensions into account, the average salary package of a qualified nurse is nudging 50 grand a year.

And judging by the look of the nurses on the picket lines, some of them are no strangers to the Hobnob tin, either.

Train drivers earn around £65,000, so they’re hardly on the breadline. But listen to their union leaders and you’d think they were existing on leftover scraps from food banks.

If only ministers would get round the table . . .

The unions are naturally guar-anteed a sympathetic hearing from broadcasters, the BBC in particular.

Ambulance workers, paramedics and call handlers from the London Ambulance Services are seen holding placards outside their base at Waterloo in London, January 11, 2023

If you believe what we’re told, the perma-crisis in the NHS is all the fault of the Government — never the overpaid clowns who run it. Despite the fact that spending on the health service has increased by 40 per cent since 2010, the lament that the NHS is starvedof money persists.

So if an ambulance doesn’t arrive for six-and-a-half hours, don’t blame the management of the ambulance service, or the strike by ambulance drivers, blame the Tories and their rich non-dom mates, literally stealing the food from the tables of our dedicated public servants.

Yesterday’s lunchtime news on BBC1 was a never-ending parade of bereaved relatives whose loved ones had died because of ambulance delays.

Nothing to do with the ambulance service, or course. All down to the evil Conservatives.

No doubt when junior doctors walk out soon, in support of a 26 per cent pay rise demand, all the resulting deaths caused by cancelled operations and closed A&E departments will be laid at the door of 10 Downing Street.

Yet when the Government this week announced modest plans to legislate for minimum service levels during industrial action by staff in so-called ‘blue light’ services, Labour reacted as though the Tories were proposing the slaughter of the first-born.

Rational debate has gone out of the window. As someone who covered the industrial unrest in the 1970s, I’ve always been loath to make the Winter of Discontent comparisons. That was sparked by huge pay settlements at the Ford Motor Company and private haulage firms, which unions in the public sector sought to emulate.

Ambulance workers, paramedics and call handlers from the London Ambulance Services are seen holding banners while on strike outside their base at Waterloo, London, January 11, 2023

So if the British Leyland tool-makers at Longbridge got 25 per cent, the grave-diggers of Birmingham demanded 30 per cent. And so on, and so on, and scooby dooby dooby.

We used to call it ‘Rollerball’ as workers chased each other round in deranged pursuit of ever-higher and increasingly unaffordable wage rises. That way lies ruin.

Today, no one at Nissan in Sunderland or Toyota in Derbyshire is on strike for higher pay. Maybe they saw what happened when Ford was held to ransom by the unions. Ford simply moved the bulk of its operations overseas.

No, today all the strikes are confined to so-called public ‘services’, no matter how inefficent or appallingly run. The unions are convinced that ministers will eventually have no alternative other than to ‘get round the table’ — in other words, cave in to their demands.

If history is repeating itself, it’s as tragedy and farce rolled into one. To be fair, the Tories — in particular Dishi Rishi — must shoulder some of the responsibility for this shambles.

It was his reckless ‘Money for nothing and your chips for free’ approach to furlough which helped persuade people that whatever befell them, the Government would always be there to bail them out.

What’s most depressing is that, according to the opinion polls, there is still widespread support for the current wave of strikes among the population as a whole.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea (centre) joins ambulance workers on the picket line outside Longley Ambulance Station in Sheffield, January 11, 2023

Millions were infantilised by Covid, paid to sit at home doing stuff all and persuaded that working for a living is an optional extra — which may help explain why the number of people claiming to be unemployable, largely because of ‘mental health issues’, has risen to 2.2 million.

But rather that tackle this epidemic of lead-swinging head-on, the Government is considering telling people over 50 who graciously agree to return to the workplace that they will be allowed to keep claiming their disability benefits and won’t have to pay income tax for a year.

You couldn’t make it up. This under a so-called Conservative Government already presiding over the highest tax burden in 70 years. Watching the news, reading the papers, it increasingly appears that post-Covid Britain is suffering from a collective mental health breakdown and is intent on entering the last throes of an economic death spiral.

Bring on the grave-diggers.

Is it any wonder that everyone from nurses to driving test examiners are falling over themselves to make ever-more outrageous wage demands, convinced that all their dreams will come true if only ministers . . .

Get round the table.

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