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Cameron’s Coalition on High Alert as Trade Unions Gear up for Easter Fuel Strike

Posted on the 28 March 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Cameron’s Coalition on high alert as trade unions gear up for Easter fuel strike

Fuel tanker. Photo credit: Frank Bennett ARPS

The Coalition government is bracing itself for an uncomfortable Easter as the likelihood of a petrol strike looms like a tanker on the horizon. The planned strike action has arisen as a result of fuel distribution employees’ unhappiness with their employers. British Prime Minister David Cameron has said there is “absolutely no justification” for drivers to strike. But trade union Unite members in five of the seven firms involved have voted for strike action.

At a Wednesday press conference, the PM said there was “no need to queue to buy petrol” but added it was sensible for the public to top up petrol “if they can” over the next few days. The government is taking the potential crisis so seriously that Cameron is set to chair an emergency Cobra meeting this afternoon to discuss contingencies ahead of a possible strike, reported PoliticsHome. There are widespread reports that the army is being trained up to drive tankers over the Easter weekend if needs be.

According to the Unite, their demands are “industry minimum standards and industry wide bargaining on pensions, terms and conditions, training and health and safety.” In all, around 2,000 drivers at seven fuel distribution companies voted, with 61 percent of them in favour of industrial action. A majority approved strike action at five of the seven firms, while at DHL and Suckling drivers rejected the move, reported The Coffee House, The Spectator blog.

Fuels strikes can burn political careers. George Eaton at The Staggers, The New Statesman rolling blog, drilled down into why Cameron “fears” a fuel strike:Cameron is clearly determined to prevent a repeat of the 2000 fuel protests when pumps ran dry across the country. And he has every political incentive to do so. The last drivers’ strike saw the Conservatives take the lead over Labour for the first time since the 1997 election.” “With Cameron’s party already haemorrhaging support over the Budget and the ‘cash for access’ scandal, a drivers’ strike could further sour the mood,” noted Eaton. Jonathan Jones of The Coffee House, The Spectator blog, also dialled up the risks to the Coalition: “… this government will be all too aware of how damaging the 2000 protests were for (ex-Labour leader Tony) Blair – many have said that they marked the end of his honeymoon. That’ll no doubt add to their determination to avoid chaos this time around.” Eaton did remind that a strike might not actually hurt Cameron quite as much as it hurt  Blair: “There is, of course, one big difference between this dispute and that of 2000. The latter was triggered by the Blair government’s refusal to cut fuel duty, while the current disagreement was sparked by the oil companies’ failure to impose minimum safety standards.”

Miliband could be the real victim of union muscle-flexing. Steve Doughty of The Daily Mail’s Right Minds comment hub insisted that the “petrol strike plan to show up Cameron is going to backfire.” Union leader Len McCluskey “will know that” a “sudden shock and panic will tell us a lot about David Cameron, at a time when a badly-received Budget, a whiff of party funding graft, and an entirely gratuitous attempt to water the workers’ beer are threatening to leave a permanent stain on his Government,” acknowledged Doughty, but the “trouble for Unite is that it is likely to tell us even more about Ed Miliband.” Doughty said “Miliband is in the embarrassing position of having to rely on the union for a good share of Labour’s funding. He has so far managed to maintain a cute silence about the threatened petrol strike … He will, however, have a real problem if and when Mr McCluskey’s drivers do stop work. Especially if Mr Cameron really means to carry out his counter-threat to bring in troops to drive the tankers and keep the country moving. Silence then will be no good. Ask Neil Kinnock, whose chances of getting to Downing Street were destroyed forever in 1984 when as the new Labour leader he failed to condemn Arthur Scargill for calling a miners’ strike without a ballot.”

Cameron must stand tough. The planned action will “test government’s resolve” insisted an editorial in The Express, which urged Cameron to fight fire with fire: “… the Unite trade union is a formidable and highly politicised organisation that sees a chance to humiliate the Government. 

The spirit of the gentleman amateur will not do in response to its hardball tactics.

 It already seems inevitable that panic-buying of fuel will escalate today following Downing Street’s vague briefing yesterday. It is time David Cameron got a grip of this situation before it descends into a full-blown crisis.” “
Last summer the Prime Minister was given the benefit of the doubt by the British public when he eventually returned from holiday to sort out riots,” noted the editorial. “But on this issue people need to see the Government showing it can prepare in advance for looming challenges and nip them in the bud.”

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