8,000 torchbearers. Over 7.7 million tickets sold. Over 10,000 athletes from 205 countries. 21,000 journalists camped out in London. A total investment of £24 billion in the Games, area regeneration and legacy.
The media has been hyping London 2012 ever since the torch touched our shores – each bearer has been profiled and praised, stunts orchestrated and column inches filled. All to galvanise the nation into supporting one of the greatest sporting events of all time.
So when the Public and Commercial Services Union decide to force all their members across the Home Office to down tools for 24 hours on 26th July you’d have hoped they had a majority of their members supporting it.
Only they haven’t. The PCS has freely admitted that 57.2 per cent of those who voted backed strike action – the turnout was 20 per cent. In reality of the 16,000 balloted members, just 3,200 voted, of whom strike action was supported by a mere 1,800 workers.
Mark Serwotka, union doge, says the reason for the strike is that the government is making 8,500 job cuts in the Home Office and reducing staffing levels by 22 per cent at the Border Agency – in itself not an unreasonable subject to take issue with. But PCS members make up around 5,000 of the 8,000 Border Force staff affected; if they don’t want to strike then why is the PCS effectively forcing them to?
Politically Serwotka couldn’t have picked a worse time for this. The national narrative is one sick of Trade Unions demanding this and refusing that. Rather than attempting to be seen as a constructive force for workers rights, unions are now perceived to be organisations intent on throwing their toys out of the pram at the most inconvenient of times with little to no mandate on which to base the tantrum on. A series of actions that even the traditionally sympathetic Labour Party has denounced.
Unions are honourably designed to fight for the special interests of their membership. But with their own supporters deigning not to vote, the question must be asked: if you can’t arouse the interest of your own special interest group, then your position must be at best flawed and, at worst, plain wrong.
The mood surrounding the Games is palpable. Those still left in the country are undeniable in favour of the 30th Olympiad. National pride harnessed by the Jubilee, encouraged by the World Cup and maintained by Wimbledon is still fresh in our collective mind. The PCS choosing to jeopardise our enjoyment will turn the country, along with the political classes, away from supporting the activities of the toxic unions.
This is not just about a delayed commute. This is potentially a cause for international embarrassment, and the British people won’t stand for it.
That’s why if ever there was a time for the Coalition to seriously look at introducing tougher union laws, then that time is now. Ensuring that minority views can’t hold the country to ransom may never be a more timely and popular policy area to invest in.
Public opinion is undoubtedly onside. The PCS, RMT and other union members are consistently failing to participate en masse in their own ballots. Anything that jeopardises symbolic British-ness is automatically made a pariah. Now is the time to assess the feasibility of legislating to ensure that half of eligible union voters have to approve a strike for it to go ahead.
With suggestions already floating around that minimum turnout for strike action should be set at 40 per cent, arguments about the turnout for general elections are summarily thrown into the ring. But there is a flaw in the argument. Balloting for strike action requires an individual turning up to voice their displeasure and voting to stop work. Just like the AV referendum, union members are being asked a specific question that requires a majority decision for it to have validity. Elections, on the other hand, are intentionally more positive, designed so that the electorate picks the best option for them personally. One disenfranchises, the other empowers.
We are told that ‘decisions are made by those who show up’. If that’s true, then why are we letting unions bully their membership into forgetting just how important that small idea is?