It was almost like watching a comedy this Tuesday when Grant Shapps introduced his so-called ”Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill” to the House of Commons. In fact there were quite a few howls of laughter. With a straight face this former Transport Secretary told MPs that the new law would ensure that "vital public services” like the NHS and transport would “have to maintain a basic function by delivering minimum safety levels, ensuring that lives and livelihoods are not lost".
He kept repeating that this law was all about the “safety” of the general public, as if strikes, rather than his government’s policies, were putting the public at risk!
Of course it’s not funny. Not when lives are being lost daily - in front of everyone’s eyes - because of the parlous state of the NHS and social care, aggravated only marginally by a cold winter, new Covid and ‘flu.
Yes, the death count today is almost entirely due to serial cuts by Tory governments (but previous Labour governments are almost as guilty). And then this upstart Shapps talks about “safety” of the public? About preventing deaths by passing anti-union legislation?
He says he aims to “legally enforce” a level of service in "health services, fire and rescue services” but also in “education services, transport services, decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel, and border security" although no details are yet provided... In other words, this is all just (very) ill-timed anti-strike propaganda...
In actual fact there have already been de facto “minimum service levels” during most of the strikes, with managers driving trains, for instance - but also with nurses and ambulance workers organising their own emergency cover during their strikes. Thus it has always been during NHS strikes, and so too, today!
So Shapps and the Tories are just trying an old anti-working class ploy. Attempting to generate public hostility to strikes, which sadly for them, the public is largely in sympathy with. Why else would ambulance strikers hold up placards that say “strike to save the NHS”, unless the majority of the public knows exactly where they stand - with patients, with health workers, for a better NHS!
But given that so far, the government’s strategy has been to delay any concrete talks, in the hope the strikers will give up, there surely has to be a change in the strikers’ strategy. It’s not a question of public sympathy, but winning the fight; and that can only be ensured if yes, there is a “general strike” - the co-ordination which the union leaders are so anxious to deny! Because the “national day of protest” announced for 1 February by the TUC, will hardly do the trick!