By Susan Fitzgerald, Unite industrial officer (personal capacity)
Boris Johnson’s plan to ban transport strikes in Britain, as a likely precursor to further and more general attacks on all workers’ rights, should come as no surprise. It was Johnson who, while Mayor of London, pushed for the draconian measures eventually brought in by David Cameron via the Trade Union Act 2016. This act, on top of the already restrictive legislation governing strikes, such as mandatory postal ballots – introduced ridiculously high turnout thresholds, which have made exercising the right to take strike action even more onerous.
In response to this, Unite activists at the 2015 Rules Conference voted to amend the rules to remove the requirement for action to be ‘lawful’. This was a correct response to Tory attempts to outlaw effective trade unionism. But now, following the High Court ruling against the Communication Workers’ Union in Royal Mail and the threat to go further and ban strikes, much more is needed from right across the trade union movement.
The threat, at this stage, is focused on the transport unions, whose members have taken militant strike action for reduced fares and greater safety. The Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT), in an appeal for support, said, “Boris Johnson is seeking to have his Margaret Thatcher miners’ strike moment by smashing the RMT and the other transport unions. To do this, the Tories want to bring in draconian legislation, making us break our own strikes by running minimum services or face having the union’s assets sequestrated and so bankrupting us. We cannot, as trade unionists, allow the RMT to be isolated. Now, more than ever, solidarity and support are needed.”
The call from the RMT must be heeded. The only way to answer this government of the rich is by mobilising our unions and our class in a battle to defend and expand our most powerful weapon, the right to organise and strike.
In the 1970s, when Tory Prime Minister Ted Heath attempted such a move, it was met with 250,000 workers taking to the streets, a special Trades Union Congress conference and widespread unofficial action. His trade union bill was defeated. This lessons stands to us today. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel but we do have to fight. In many cases, it will take pressure from below to insist on a battle. We need our unions to fearlessly mobilise our incredible collective resources behind a fighting and decisive campaign. In doing so, we are not just safeguarding the right to strike, but limbering up for future unavoidable battles against this Tory government.