Misery piled on misery, chaos on chaos, frustration on frustration. Queues everywhere, roads gridlocked, buses packed to bursting in what is supposedly the world's greatest and most vibrant city. It's a wearisomely familiar experience, as again and yet again well-paid, well-cosseted Tube drivers walk out over some confected grievance, inflicting as much pain as they can on Londoners who wish only to get on with their lives.

And there's worse – much worse – to come. Not content with tormenting millions in our capital city, transport unions are this week resuming their attack on 300,000 Southern Rail commuters, with three days of strikes, carefully phased to ensure the maximum damage. On non-strike days, of course, union drivers and guards will continue the disruption by working to rule, taking time off with phoney claims of illness or reporting "faulty" trains which are cancelled and then turn out to have nothing wrong with them at all.

Such cynical, bullying, bloody-minded bolshiness has been going on for months and now the unions, who obviously think they can get away with anything, are ganging up for a renewed assault. In London. the RMT and TSSA are co-ordinating their actions to achieve the maximum impact. On Southern Rail, it's Aslef and the RMT. Oh, and not to be left out, Unite is calling out British Airways cabin staff in a protest over "poverty" wages.

We are facing the most serious outbreak of industrial disruption in a generation, which union bosses threaten will spread across the whole country. Strikes, they say, are "inevitable" on the Northern rail network, which covers Manchester, Leeds Newcastle and Hull. The financial cost will run into billions. The human cost is incalculable.

And what – leaving aside the BA strike – is the great principle that supposedly justifies all this mayhem? Piously, strike leaders claim that it's all about safety. As far as Southern Rail is concerned, for example, these noble union souls are so worried about the dangers of allowing driver-only rail services without a conductor that they feel compelled to disrupt those services altogether. For our own good, naturally. Gosh, perhaps we ought to be grateful!

There's a deeper and much more dangerous motive too, born of a hard-Left ideology that hates capitalism and liberal democracy

In the realm of black-hearted lies, the claims of unions such as the RMT are championship stuff. Gold medal class. Almost admirable in their sheer effrontery. The plain fact is that driver-only operations have been operating perfectly safely since 1982, when they were introduced on the "Bedpan" line from Bedford to St Pancras. They've spread to a third of the rail network since then and have been declared safe again and again.

Only last week, the industry's health and safety watchdog, the Office of Rail and Road, published a detailed report which concluded that Southern Rail's driver-only operations "fully meet legal requirements for safe operation". And what was the response of RMT General Secretary Mick Cash? Why, he denounced the findings as a "total whitewash". Surprise, surprise.

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So what's the real reason for this eruption of militancy? In part, it's a Luddite resistance to any change that might improve efficiency and reduce fares, even though they involve no job losses or cuts in pay. But there's a deeper and much more dangerous motive too, born of a hard-left ideology that hates capitalism, hates liberal democracy and is still in thrall to a half-understood version of Marxist economic theory.

These are people who in the real world couldn't win an election to become the parish ratcatcher, but who can nevertheless wield power through the Byzantine world of union politics. And how they love to strut their stuff. Here's Sean Hoyle, president of the RMT, admitting that the unions are co-ordinating their strikes in what amounts to a syndicalist attempt to overturn the result of the last general election. The aim, he says, is to "bring down this bloody, working-class-hating Tory Government".

Tube Strike
Travellers queue for buses outside the closed entrance to the Underground station at Waterloo during a strike by members of two unions in protest at ticket office closures and reduced staffing levels in London Dylan Martinez/Reuters

And you don't have to search very hard to find plenty of other union grandees boasting about their intention of abusing their brief authority to get their own way. And of course they are helped no end by the utter uselessness of the Southern management, which is paid handsomely, even though it presided over the most unpunctual train services in Britain long before the present dispute began.

So where's Her Majesty's Government in all this? Transport Secretary Chris Grayling seems to spend most of his time claiming that the dispute is nothing to do with him. Theresa May, meanwhile, talks of a caring, sharing society, but hasn't actually done anything to help. There are hints of action to curb strikes, but that's all it amounts to so far. Hints.

Well, it's not easy. Of course it isn't. Wild suggestions that the strikers might all be sacked on the spot – just as Ronald Reagan successfully sacked striking air traffic controllers, back in 1981 – are just fantasies. And proposals to ban strikes by law won't wash either. In a free, democratic society, can working people really be banned from withdrawing their labour?

Yet it's beyond doubt that countless lives and livelihoods are being ruined by a small group of hard-left ideologues who have no respect or understanding of democratic norms. And they will go on conducting their malign activities for weeks, months, perhaps even years ahead, unless they are stopped.

So here's a modest proposal. For the last century or more, unions have been immune from any claim for damages arising from their actions. Under the Trades Dispute Act 1906, passed by the Liberal Government of Henry Campbell-Bannerman, no union can be sued for striking, no matter how much damage is caused.

It's beyond doubt that countless lives and livelihoods are being ruined by a small group of hard-left ideologues who have no respect or understanding of democratic norms

And although that law was controversial – the great constitutionalist A V Dicey commented that it "makes a trade union a privileged body, exempt from the ordinary laws of the land" – it was nevertheless thought necessary, as employers at the time had too much power over their employees.

But times have changed. Unions are no longer powerless, but are often quite capable of bludgeoning companies and even governments into submission. So why should they still enjoy the unique privilege of being exempt from the normal processes of civil law? Why shouldn't the victims of strikes – the people who truly need protecting – be allowed to strike back at their tormentors?

Mrs May says that the Government has a duty to intervene to correct the "burning injustices" in modern Britain. But isn't the most pressing of those burning injustices the way so many lives are daily being spoiled by the arrogant bullies of the transport unions? Talk is easy. Isn't it time for action?


Michael Toner is a former Fleet Street political editor and co-author of a series of Bluffers' Guides on Europe.