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1996 - Mr Major’s Comments on the South East

Below is the text of Mr Major’s comments on the South East, made during an interview held in London on Thursday 25th July 1996.


QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked what he would be doing to end the tube strikes in London].

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it is remarkable the way so many Londoners have found their way to work in these difficulties and I warmly congratulate them on doing so. I don't think this tube strike is justified under any criterion one can think of. The unions on strike have not honoured an agreement they reached last year, they won't go to arbitration, and frankly the strike weapon, and the way they are using it against the interests of people not involved in the dispute - the passengers - I think is disgraceful. The best thing I believe that we can do for Londoners, both in the short and the long term, is to stand firm and resist this industrial blackmail.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked whether it was useful to condemn the strike and asked if the management were to blame].

PRIME MINISTER:

If it is the management who have reneged, why are they prepared to go arbitration, and not the union? If it is the management who have reneged, why is it that the union have not honoured their agreement of last year? The fact of the matter is that it is the union that has decided to have the strike and withdrawn its labour and I think it should be condemned. Of course they should go to arbitration, and not only go to arbitration, I think they are justifiably condemned for not doing so.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if strikes which affected public services should be stopped].

PRIME MINISTER:

If you look at what has happened over the past five or six years strikes, as an industrial weapon, have been dying out. They are not quite as extinct as the dinosaur, as we have seen with this unfortunate dispute, but they are falling away. And I believe increasingly people will come to see them as something that is just old-fashioned, out-moded and simply a weapon that should not be used. I think to let them fade away in this way is more likely to ensure that we have industrial harmony.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if some Conservative MPs would find such a ban electorally useful].

PRIME MINISTER:

We will look at manifesto pledges at a later stage. For the moment I would like to see this strike settled. I think it would help - you spoke of condemnation - if we had some condemnation from the other political parties. Thus far they seem to have been on a sponsored silence when it comes to condemning a strike that is damaging the interests of Londoners, damaging the interests of the underground and in the long-term damaging the interests of the workforce themselves. But not a word of leadership or condemnation of this particular issue has there been. I think there should be. Now we may have to look at other measures but at the moment I think the first thing is to get this strike settled and to make it clear to those on strike that this is just not a tolerable way to treat Londoners.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if he would consider legislation to end such strikes].

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not ruling anything in or out at the present moment. What I am saying is that the industrial relations legislation that we put on the statute book in the last 15 years or so has cut strikes to a level below anything we have seen before.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if the strike numbers were increasing again now].

PRIME MINISTER:

Then there ought to be some condemnation from the opposition parties. Perhaps they believe the opinion polls, perhaps they believe there might be a Labour government, perhaps they noticed the silence of the Labour Party in condemning the strikes, perhaps they think the strike weapon is one that can come back into force. Well if that is the position, I think they gravely mis-judge the people who are being abused by this strike - the Londoners finding it difficult to get to work today - and the way that they will feel about that. I repeat, strikes are old-fashioned, out-moiled and this is not a way, in the mid-1990s, that industrial relations should be conducted, where the passenger is put at risk, inconvenience and expense and the economy is harmed because of a strike that ought never to have taken place.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if he might intervene to stop the strikes].

PRIME MINISTER:

I have ruled nothing out.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if the strike was good for the Conservatives].

PRIME MINISTER:

We didn't call this strike. I don't want this strike. I have called for this strike to be ended. I wish the Labour Leader would call for this strike to be ended and condemn the people who have called it unnecessarily. But so many of their members are sponsored by the RMT, the Deputy Leader is sponsored by the RMT. Where is he speaking up for passengers today? He is nowhere to be seen, still as I said a moment ago on a sponsored silence. No, it is not convenient for the government. We have delivered over the last few years industrial harmony on a scale we have not previously seen in this century. Now I would like that industrial harmony to continue. The economy is improving, inflation is falling, unemployment is falling, we are beginning to see a rapid degree of investment both externally and internally. That is what is going to improve people's livelihoods and the re-emergence of the strike weapon is not convenient. What does it say to countries abroad who invest in this country? It says are the old problems coming back? That is not in my interest and it is not in the interests of London either.