Ronald Reagan’s lesson—how to handle strikers

I don’t think there’s anything the British people hate more than “industrial actions” by numerous instances, especially the transport system. In London, where millions of people depend on public transport, even a single day of a transport strike disrupts not only the daily routine of the commuters, but also the businesses.

In his book, “An American Life”, Ronald Reagan recalls an episode during his presidency when air traffic controllers decided to go on a strike. US Congress had previously passed a law forbidding strikes by government employees, and every member of the air traffic controllers’ union had signed a sworn pledge agreeing not to strike. They decided to do so anyway.

Citing the pledge made by controllers never to strike, I said that if they did not return to work within forty-eight hours, their jobs would be terminated. I didn’t like disrupting the lives and careers of these professionals, many of whom had spent years serving their country. I don’t like firing anybody. But I realized that if they made the decision not to return to work in the full knowledge of what I’d said, then I wasn’t firing them, they were giving up their jobs based on their individual decisions.

I think that members of PATCO (the air controllers’ union—SH) were poorly served by their leaders. They apparently thought I was bluffing, or playing games when I said controllers who didn’t honor the no-strike pledge would lose their jobs and not be rehired; and I think they underestimated the courage and energy of those controllers who decided not to go on strike. The airlines and these hard-working FAA employees, as well as the traveling public, went through a difficult period. But as each day passed, there were more planes in the air; we discovered that before the strike, the air traffic control system had about six thousand more controllers than it really needed to operate safely.

Now put this into the context of London. Change the 48 hours Reagan gave the controllers to, for example, two (because London transport strikes are usually 24 hours long). Imagine what you could discover, and how much money TfL, the city of London and thus all of us could save if all useless staff were let go.

Bear in mind, the UK law does not guarantee the right to strike. It’s tolerated for some idiotic reason, but these people don’t have the right to strike. All we have to do is stop tolerating slacking.

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