A "war room" against strikes is the one that Cyril Ramaphosa really needs
Forty years ago British Prime Minister James Callaghan's Labour government was destroyed by militant trade unions in the so-called "winter of discontent" that brought Margaret Thatcher to power. Five years before that, militant unions had destroyed Edward Heath's Conservative government when he fought an election on the issue of "Who governs Britain: the miners or the government?"
The policy of appeasement towards the union movement dated back to Winston Churchill's post-war government in the early 1950s. Harold Wilson's Labour government tried to limit union power in 1969, but Callaghan, who had a union background, led a cabinet revolt against him – only to be hoist with his own petard a decade later.
So when Thatcher came to power she was faced with the challenge of reversing a well-established bipartisan appeasement policy that not one of her predecessors had been able to bring to an end. It took her a decade to finally break the overweening power of the trade union movement. She went through four labour ministers in a process which included removing union privileges such as closed shops and legal immunities, while also curtailing their picketing powers and imposing secret ballots before strikes could be called.
Her first confrontation with the unions, in 1981, ended in her defeat. She immediately began planning for the next strike. This was the great battle with Arthur Scargill in the coal mine strike which lasted a few days short of a year in 1984 to 1985. Critical to some of the earlier Scargill victories over governments had been the use of "flying pickets" to enforce strikes upon miners who did not support them.
Scargill had called the 1984 strike without a ballot as he knew it would not enjoy democratic support. The pickets were his private army. His objective was less to keep the uneconomic coal mines going than to bring down the government.