Sunday, 4 February 2007

Being clear over a quarter of a century

Yesterday's post on how uphelpful various political characterisations of the islamic terrorism problem are reminded me on another situation where thinking about the rules of the game rather than abstract political principles was vital: the problem with the Unions in the 1970s.

Now, I would never suggest that there is anything comparable in these situations excepting only that in both cases a small, unrepresentative group of people were bent on their own selfish ends. In the current case they are acting illegally, immorally, and with flagrant disregard for society: the 1970s Union leaders were behaving legally, and quite possibly in what they saw as the best interests of society.

But there is a parallel in the kind of solution needed to a problem that was damaging society. In the 70s, that problem was the ability and willingness of a small number of Union officials to cripple whole industries. The solutions involved changes the rules of industrial action. Both Barbara Castle's In Place of Strife, which prefigured many of the better features of Thatcher's Union legislation, and the milk snatcher's own laws avoided the twin errors of demonising all Union member and of uncritically accepting the status quo. So the right to strike was retained but the right to secondary picketing wasn't. It is from this kind of nuanced, ideologically untainted, thinking that effective solutions to the terrorism problem will come.

So to end, here's something that looks old but isn't.


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