Recent court decisions, backed up by silence from the parliamentary parties, has all but made the right to strike an illegal act…
The most fundamental freedom any worker has is the right to withdraw their labour. Without that right you are a slave. The right to strike in Britain now is a hairsbreadth away from being a criminal act due to recent court decisions.
Leave aside the decision to reverse the injunction sought by BA to stop the Unite strike action planned for May and June – that’s just a blip, and even that was a majority ruling. The interpretations of ballot legislation now make it almost impossible to conduct a legal ballot.
The BA action was initially banned because 11 spoilt papers out of more than 7,000 were not notified to every single member. Also in May, planned NUJ strike action at regional newspaper chain Johnston Press was stopped because the union had not informed each one of Johnston Press’s subsidiaries individually.
Every ballot called is now crawled over by bands of lawyers. Case law is being made almost on a daily basis to generate technical loopholes to undermine the ballot or create impossible conditions which the unions are guaranteed to fail.
Anti-trade union legislation in Britain dates back to the Combination Acts of the 18th century and has continued under both Labour and Tory administrations in legislation over the last 50 years. Anti-union legislation has never been reformed or scrapped by Parliament, it has only been strengthened. The Donovan Commission, “In Place of Strife”, the Industrial Relations Act, the Trade Union and Labour (Consolidated) Act, the earlier Master and Servant legislation ,were all about the ruling class using Parliament to rubber stamp anti-worker, anti-union legislation.
There are over 13 million workers in Britain who are in TUC-affiliated trade unions, non-TUC affiliated trade unions, staff associations or company staff associations. Be they TUC or not they are all threatened by anti-union legislation which effectively outlaws the collective interests or actions of millions of workers.
Parliament, the courts and ever more draconian case law have turned us all into outlaws. Now is the time to step outside of the law. We have to develop a new mindset which sees industrial action in myriad and imaginative ways, effectively going underground to rebuild the trade union movement.
For decades there has been no political will in the Labour Party to reform or scrap anti-union legislation. In fact so-called improvements by Labour consolidated and worsened the legislation. Within many trade unions there is now an institutionalised attitude which cravenly bows towards the law. If we are to assert our independence as a working class, if we are to halt this creeping fascism of incorporation and complicity as espoused by Parliament, then we have to look to ourselves and our history to survive.
Trade union leaders are understandably wary of hgaving union assets seized for “illegal” action, but members themselves can force the issue, as the engineering construction workers did at Lindsey Oil Refinery. The trade unions, as one, must take up the cause of trade union freedom. Not as a “leftie” grouping of the few but as the united voice of all. For all the talk of the trade unions having an “organising culture”, this is the issue to organise on.
Collectively the trade unions and their memberships must reach out to all workers’ organisations, forums and bodies, to create the greatest alliance possible for resistance.
Being mesmerised by “legal” industrial action is killing the trade unions. Nothing should be legal or illegal in how we approach industrial action, only what are sound strategies and tactics, and winning. The survival of independent and effective trade unionism is at the crossroads, and time is running out. The membership must seize their organisations and let nothing stand in their way.