Plans to Shackle Industrial Action Have a More Sinister Purpose

Reposted from Huffington Post 

So now we know what the Conservative manifesto will say about industrial action.

Strike ballots will require a 50% turn out to be valid. Breaches of the picketing code of practice will be criminalised. A whole new list of rules and regulations will be introduced that will be almost impossible for unions to meet. So even when a union meets the threshold requirement, employers will have plenty of new opportunities to get injunctions against a strike.

This goes far further than anything Mrs Thatcher did in limiting the right to strike. Such a turn out threshold is very rarely met by ballots involving more than a small workforce. It adds up to an effective end to the right to strike for many groups of workers – normally the kind of measure that we associate with dictatorships, not democracies.

No doubt we will be told it would be much better for unions to sort out their differences with employers by talking rather than striking. Unions agree with this – and indeed collective bargaining takes place across the country every day of the week and strikes are rare.

But for negotiations to work each side has to have some power. The individual relationship between an employer and employee is inevitably one-sided. Employees get back some power by banding together in unions, and the threat to withdraw labour, though rarely implemented, makes negotiations work. Oliver Twist was not negotiating when he asked for some more as he had no power.

And the effect of union negotiations spreads through the economy. Union collective bargaining sets pay rates, paves the way on flexible working and equal opportunities, and delivers better pensions. These then spread to other companies. If you weaken the ability of unions to bargain, then there will be consequences throughout the economy, union and non-union.

There is increasing concern about a growing gap between those at the top of society and the rest. This is not just driven by concerns that it is unfair that the majority have suffered a living standards crisis while those at the top have not. It also flows from a realisation that inequality makes for economic inefficiency and unstable economies. When wages fall, people borrow more – and when that fed into sub-prime mortgages the banking system nearly collapsed.

Organisations as far away from unions as the IMF now say that more collective bargaining has wider economic benefits.

But Conservative plans take us in the opposite direction. They look like part of an effort to exclude the many from the fruits of recovery and reserve them for the few.

And when we look at the detail we find a mixture of the absurd and the chilling. The ballot threshold has the bizarre effect of making abstentions more powerful than votes against a strike. Think of a ballot that just meets the 50 per cent turnout threshold. It would only take a few people who voted against to have abstained instead to make the ballot invalid as the turnout would fall below the threshold.

Notably absent is any proposal to increase turn-out. Strike ballots can only take place by post.

Yet we live in an era when communications has moved on-line. Most of our post these days is bills and junk mail – and it is not surprising that people often miss ballots. No-one wants to go back to votes by show of hands in company car parks, but allowing secure and secret online balloting would be bound to increase turn-out (You can join our online campaign action in support of this).

All the small print in this week’s announcement about ballot rules simply adds bureaucratic burdens to unions. Members only vote to strike – and thus lose pay – if they feel strongly about an issue. More rules about ballot wording will not affect results, but will make it easier for lawyers to find fault and seek injunctions against strikes that clearly have proper support but have missed one tiny bit of red tape.

And as for bringing the criminal law into the regulation of pickets (which are of course already subject to public order law) I cannot make the case against this better than Norman Tebbit does at the Telegraph here.

Of course strikes can inconvenience people, but you do not have to support every bit of industrial action to see that the right to strike is both a basic human right and a way of reducing the gap between those at the top and the rest of us. After more than a decade of falling living standards we should be clear that shackling unions has a much more sinister purpose than reducing the odd bit of hassle.

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30 Responses to Plans to Shackle Industrial Action Have a More Sinister Purpose

  1. jess says:

    The tory regulations are pretty unworkable actually, and will probably increase industrial actions
    Union officials try very hard to avoid strikes and attempt to keep negotiations under their control

    All that will happen is that a new generation of shop floor militants will emerge. They will have no assets, so there will be no point in fining them

    During the period of WW1 it was illegal to strike, but there were still walk-outs, and they became much harder to resolve, because trades union officials had become, in effect, an extension of foremen.


    • Ulysses says:

      Hi Jess, i bow to your superior knowledge here again, and i’ll ask – again 😉 –
      have you any links to further reading on this?


      • jess says:

        Gladly supplied;

        The best overall book is G. Rubin, “War, Law and Labour”., 1987
        J.H’ Horne, “Labour At War”, 1991 gives a comparison between France and Britain.
        J. Hinton, “The First Shop Stewards Movement”, 1973 describes ‘organising from below’.
        G.D.H.. Cole, , “Trade Unionism and Munitions”, 1923 is a semi-official history
        A. Woollacott, “On Her Their Lives Depend” details, 1994 is about the women in the Munitions Factories
        D. Kirkwood “My Life of Revolt” is an autobioraphy of a ‘militant’ (Though he later became an MP)
        J. Melling “Rent Strikes” details some of the struggles on the ‘home front’ in Scotland (Why do you think it became known as ‘Red’ Clydeside.

        Absolutely invaluable are N. Milton ‘Rapids of Revolution’ (John Maclean) and Sylvia Pankhurst’s writings

        Government Departmental Reports and Circulars are very useful, Many are contained in the Cabinet Papers, which are online but difficult to use


      • Ulysses says:

        Many thanks, looks like my “To Read” list has increased again 😀


      • Sorry Ulysses… look on the bright side … it’s an excellent cure for insomnia 🙂


      • jess says:

        I should have mentioned that similar situations existed in the British Labour Camps of the 1930’s

        In this case, probably more analogous to workfare, the documentation is much sparser. But in one case, at Kielder, the inmates insisted on raising a red flag over the camp, instead of the official one (D. Colledge, “Labour Camps: The British Experience” p.31)

        Nor did industrial action abate in WW2 either, though again it was illegal to strike.

        With the second war the documentation is a bit harder to find (I can think of no complete study, if anyone can please correct me) but it is there nevertheless.

        Most of the books I listed should be available through inter-library loan.

        I would advise that folk start with the Rubin study.

        The first major strike wave of WW1 was in the S Wales Coal fields and the miners as good as won it.


  2. sdbast says:

    Reblogged this on sdbast.


  3. Stephen Bee says:

    Government by Consent ONLY with a MINIMUM 51% majority


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  5. JC says:

    …and some people STILL believe that this is democracy 😦


  6. jaypot2012 says:

    Then try and get the people to DO something. Let’s face it, they cannot get enough police or army to go to every town or city in the UK to round up and arrest everyone. The thing about the government is they think that any demonstrations, walk outs, etc will only happen in London – that it their weakest spot – so hit it!
    Sorry Glynis – I wasn’t having a go at you, just people in general 😀


  7. jaypot2012 says:

    Reblogged this on Jay's Journal and commented:
    Something needs to happen…


  8. Methusalada says:

    Nothing said about the low percentage of votes on how these champions of democracy gained power nationally in 2010. This democratic power ? made it possible & necessary for them to team up with another low life partner. Such is the currency of such a debauched political system.


  9. Reblogged this on amnesiaclinic and commented:
    Please read very carefully….


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  12. paulmabbo says:

    Added my own thoughts then reblogged this on


  13. Reblogged this on SMILING CARCASS'S TWO-PENNETH and commented:
    What is the point of a union whose hands are tied? Of course, the Tories know the answer to that one; no bloody use!

    As the author points out, this will lead to more militancy on the shop floor and more, I dearly hope, wildcat strikes.

    And again, as the author points out, negotiating with no muscle results in imposition from the other side.

    I wrote a related post here- “Ooh! We can’t do that. It’s illegal.” some time ago.

    I’ll be interested to hear what ‘more pink than red’ Ed has to say.


  14. beastrabban says:

    Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    Glynis here shows that the legislation designed to make holding strikes more difficult seems to be part of the Tory’s campaign to increase inequality. She also shows that even the IMF have supported collective bargaining, because of the way this often leads to improvements in productivity. So the Tories seem to want to wreck the economy, just to make themselves and their friends that bit richer and more privileged.


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