Hajera Blagg, Monday, January 12th, 2015
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced on Friday (January 9) new measures to be included in the Conservative manifesto that would all but make strikes illegal.
In this chilling move, the right to withdraw labour against unfair pay and working conditions—a cornerstone of all developed democracies—would be so severely constrained as to render working people essentially powerless in the face of unscrupulous employers.
McLoughlin told The Telegraph that the “tough new measures” would require a minimum 40 per cent eligible voter support threshold for strikes in “essential services,” such as health, education, transport and fire services.
The transport secretary alleged that two-thirds of strike ballots since 2010 have attracted less than half of the workforce, but he conveniently forgets the shaky ground on which his party’s power is based. After all, only 23 per cent of those eligible voted for the Conservative party in the last general election, and a mere 17 per cent of London’s voters supported the city’s current mayor, Boris Johnson, in 2012.
Against working people
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said the Tories’ latest move is a dark harbinger of things to come from a party that’s decidedly anti-worker.
“Yet again, the Conservatives line themselves up behind big business and against working people,” he said. “This latest threat will hit workers enacting their fundamental right to stand up for fair wages, to save our public services and defend their jobs and pensions.”
McCluskey argued that avoiding strikes, which are always a last resort for unions in any case, can be accomplished by other, more democratic means.
“The way to resolve such disputes is through negotiations – not to intimidate and silence by legislation,” he said. “The way to improve turnouts is to modernise balloting, something trade unions have repeatedly called for but been ignored by the Conservatives who are determined roll back the rights of working people.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady agreed.
“The Conservatives know that this threshold will effectively end the right to strike in the public sector,” she said. “No democracy elsewhere in the world has this kind of restriction on industrial action. It is a democratic outrage, especially as the Conservatives have opposed allowing secure and secret online balloting – the one measure guaranteed to increase turnouts.”
O’Grady said the new proposals, coupled with austerity cuts, would be disastrous for public sector workers.
“We know they plan to get rid of a million public sector jobs and cut the value of public sector pay every year in the next Parliament if they win the election,” O’Grady said. “Now they are also going to make it impossible for public sector workers to resist.”
Indeed, the UK’s trade union laws are already the most draconian in Europe. In 2010, the European Social Rights Committee found the UK to have violated the European Social Charter, which enshrines the right to collective action. The committee found that, in the UK, “the scope for workers to defend their interests through lawful collective action is excessively circumscribed,” meaning legal industrial action is already nearly impossible to carry out.
Conservatives have also called for lifting a ban on the use of agency workers during industrial action, as well as an end to rolling mandates.
In this anti-union climate, one already recognised as such by the wider European community, the Tories’ efforts to further hobble collective action can only be construed as an all-out attack on working people.
“This speaks volumes about the sort of government we could expect from the Tories,” said McCluskey. “We already have the most backwards trade union laws in Europe yet they want to bounce us further to the dark ages. In the year we commemorate the birth of our freedoms with the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the Tories want to place the UK in the same league as some of the most anti-democratic regimes on the planet.
“These moves are chilling, and will ring alarm bells in workplaces right across the land.”