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Tuesday 8 July 2014

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Fight anti-union laws in the workplace and the ballot box

As over a million public sector workers were preparing for J10, Michael Gove followed Boris Johnson and other right-wing Tories to demand tighter new rules for strike ballots, which they believe would put an end to virtually all public sector strikes.

TUSC supports the Trade Union Rights and Freedom Bill

TUSC supports the Trade Union Rights and Freedom Bill   (Click to enlarge)

The Daily Mail reported that if the Tories win the 2015 general election that a strike could only take place if it was supported by a majority of the entire membership of the union in the sector concerned voting Yes in a postal ballot.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) national chairperson Dave Nellist, who was an opposition member of parliament thirty years ago when Tories Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit first introduced postal ballot requirements, comments:

"There isn't actually a legal right to strike in this country. There are tighter and tighter rules which define whether a strike can lead to employers suing unions whose members take strike action, or not. The current law on postal ballots already makes it hard for unions to conduct a legal ballot, and if all those rules are not complied with employers can sue a union. The proposal of Michael Gove is to set a bigger trap to make it harder for unions to remain immune to that legal action.

"At the moment what is required in a ballot for industrial action is a simple majority of those voting. That's the same principle, as Paul Embery, the London Fire Brigades Union secretary, has said, as is required in virtually all votes from elections, through company shareholder meetings, to the X Factor Grand Finale.

"It's not a question of union strike ballots lacking a 'democratic mandate'. There are few politicians who could pass Michael Gove's test of only being legitimate if they receive over 50% of those eligible to vote - including Michael Gove himself.

Tory hypocrisy

"Boris Johnson was elected as London Mayor in 2008 on 19% of those eligible to vote and some Tory Police Commissioners won their elections in 2012 on votes as little as 7% of those eligible to vote! The Tory Party itself in the 2010 election got less than 25% of the 45 million people eligible to vote. Yet they want to impose on trade unions a higher threshold than applies to themselves in elections to public office.

"Trade unionists always want a maximum turnout and a maximum yes vote for any action. And we had much higher turnouts and votes when decisions were made either at mass meetings at workplaces or by ballots issued and collected at workplaces.

"The Tories in the 1980s brought in postal ballots to break up the solidarity of workers discussing at work whether an issue demanded strike action (always a last resort) and whether a particular form of strike action could win. They wanted workers atomised, making the decision individually at home, where the influence of the Tory press and mass media could weigh down on workers and their families.

Trade unionists lobby parliament over anti-union laws

Trade unionists lobby parliament over anti-union laws   (Click to enlarge)

"The Tories brought in (and Labour never reversed!) a raft of requirements (to do with nominated addresses, time of ballots, class of worker who could be involved in the balloting, rules on questions, statements warning of breach of contract, separate ballots for separate workplaces and so on) all designed to make it easier to trip up unions.

"And employers have been quick to go to court on the tiniest technical detail, including one famous case when, despite a turnout of 78% and a yes vote of 87%, train drivers' union ASLEF was taken to court, and employers initially won an injunction, because ballot papers had been given to two drivers who it turned out were not entitled to vote!.

"TUSC is currently arranging trade union delegations to Labour Party prospective parliamentary candidates to see whether any of them are serious about reversing the austerity agenda.

Trade union rights bill

"On the issue of trade union rights we will be asking them whether they support the provisions in the Labour MP John McDonnell's 'Trade Union Rights and Freedom Bill', on reintroducing protections for participating in industrial action, unfair dismissal, complaints to employment tribunals, automatic reinstatement, agency labour in industrial disputes, definition of a trade dispute to include associated employers etc (and on other union issues such as the reinstatement of facility time and check off rights removed by the Con Dem coalition).

"The nature of their replies on that, as well as on other issues including restoration of public services and benefits, the immediate introduction of a Living Wage, the lifting of the public sector pay cap, and renationalisation (for example of rail and Royal Mail), which are all policies widely supported by the trade union movement, will help decide whether local TUSC groups add those constituencies to the list of possible challenges in the 2015 general election.

"On Thursday, July 10, 1½ million workers, possibly the biggest number involved in industrial action since 1926, will be sacrificing a day's wage to make a stand against years of pay freezes; of pensions costing more, paying out less, and arriving years later; and of hundreds of thousands of jobs gone, and many more to come as all politicians seem to accept that austerity in the next parliament will be sharper than even what we have had so far.

"Those on strike will represent millions more who feel the same anger towards the Con Dem government, and who will take heart by those standing up on July 10.

"As the prison officers have shown (whose right to strike has been completely removed) when that anger boils over and action is taken it will take more than a new rule from Michael Gove to stop working people challenging austerity".