At last, at last. A court decision has gone in favour of the right to strike. In fact, two decisions, reached by the Court of Appeal on 4 March.
In the first, the High Court had ruled that a ballot of 605 train drivers working for London Midland, members of ASLEF, was unlawful because it had been sent to two drivers who were not entitled to vote.
The ballot had a turnout of 472, and 87 per cent of them voted to strike. So the inclusion of two drivers could not materially affect the vote. But the High Court slapped an injunction on the union.
In the second, involving the RMT, the judgement of the High Court in favour of Serco Docklands was bizarre. Read this explanation from the RMT: “The only reason why the injunction was granted was because of a technicality. Serco couldn’t convince the High Court that the RMT’s detailed lists and figures for members was inadequate. But the High Court held that the union’s explanation as to how it had arrived at those figures was inadequate.” The Court of Appeal disagreed.
In case after case judges have tightened and throttled legitimate attempts by trade unions to use strike action in pursuance of trade disputes. To legally strike in Britain is almost impossible as every potential strike has endless hurdles to pass.
So the Appeal Court, in possibly the most important legal judgements supporting trade union rights in the past ten years, found the lower court’s decisions unreasonable and discharged the injunctions.
The result has been hailed by the media as the green light for industrial action. Not so. It has simply stopped courts banning strikes for utterly trivial and technical reasons. But the basic legislation remains, and still represents a formidable obstacle to struggle.
ASLEF, the RMT and their lawyers, Thompsons, have seen to it that some level of sanity has been brought into the matter. They clearly stated that this was a small step towards bringing balance and fairness into the heavily weighted anti-trade union legislation all workers face as soon as they try to defend themselves.
The RMT and other unions also have cases coming up before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
That the cases even had to come to appeal shows how far the right to strike has been shackled in recent years, how far from democracy our crisis-ridden capitalism actually is.
That we are reduced to appealing to the courts in London and Strasbourg is also a measure of our weakness.
And lest we forget, the legislation in question may have been put in place by the Conservatives, but it was, deliberately, never repealed by Labour.
The respite brought about by the Court of Appeal decisions may not last long. Already, employment lawyers are signalling that they expect employers to approach the government directly with their concerns over the judgements.
Since workers first combined to challenge the power of employers, they have faced laws, fines, transportation, sequestration and harassment of all kinds. The employing class has never been happy living with an organised working class.
Time, then, for us to decide to stop living with the employing class. ■