Vince Cable, the UK government’ s Business Secretary, has warned the major unions not to take co-ordinated strike action otherwise the government will introduce tougher union laws.
He is playing a game of chicken with the unions.
In a game of chicken the best outcome for a player is if they hold firm and the other side backs down. The next best outcome is if both players back down, but the worst outcome is if neither player backs down.
In this case Vince wants the unions to back down from the threat of strikes and the unions want him to back down on spending cuts. The worst outcome for everyone is a strike which will hit government services and also workers’ income.
The key to winning a game of chicken is being able to make a credible threat. If the other side truly believes that you will not back down then they are better off backing down before they end up in a worse position.
I fear for Vince that his threat in this situation is not a credible one.
The unions know that he is a liberal politician who should not be against the right to strike in principle. Is he really going to support stronger legislation to restrict the unions? This seems unlikely for a liberal politician and certainly isn’t a credible threat.
The unions however have a much more credible threat. Their members will lose their jobs if they do not strike, and many of them will fear that they will not be able to get another job in the current economy. They have little to lose by striking.
This is a game of chicken that will probably end in strikes but certainly won’t end up with the unions backing down. Mr Cable needs to find a more credible threat if he is to win the game.
Today’s takeaway: Only play a game of chicken if you have a credible threat to make the other side back down.