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Friday, February 3, 2017

On Strike! Oh, no

Dad was a union man. I joke that his politics were to the left of Leon Trotsky — an exaggeration not without justification. He railed against the excesses of capitalism and the difficulties faced by the working man and woman. He received the annual Friend of Labor award from the Alabama AFL-CIO (Alabama being the most unionized state in the South) and consulted for the AFL-CIO on unemployment compensation into his 80s. Aside from family, the largest contingent at his funeral were representatives of organized labor.

Reluctantly I differ with Dad on one point. In my travels to Europe I am often confronted by one kind of "labor action" or another in the transportation sector. Sometimes it's an airline, sometimes it's rail, sometimes it's mass transit. Next week, for example, much of the London Underground system — the "Tube" — will be unserved or underserved because of a strike. Is it ethical for a relatively small number of people to inflict inconvenience or even financial loss on millions of citizens, just as a way to resolve a workplace dispute? I'm doubtful. Hostage-taking is reprehensible.

I'm reminded of the 1981 strike by air traffic controllers in the U.S., who didn't appreciate the difference between then-new President Ronald Reagan and previous President Jimmy Carter. Reagan noted that each of the 11,345 controllers had signed a sworn affidavit promising never to strike. He fired them all. The union collapsed but more importantly the American economy carried on.

That kind of reaction has been unthinkable in Western Europe… until now. Watch what happens if the UK and France follow the U.S. by handing control to UKIP and the National Front, respectively. It could happen.