Education minister Michael Gove has followed London Mayor Boris Johnson and other right-wing Tories to demand tighter new rules for strike ballots, which they believe would put an end to virtually all public sector strikes.
If the Tories win the 2015 general election, a legal strike could only take place if it was supported by a majority of the entire membership of the union concerned voting yes in a postal ballot.
DAVE NELLIST, who chairs the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) and was an opposition MP 30 years ago when the Tories (in order to weaken workplace solidarity) imposed postal ballot requirements in trade union strike ballots, comments:
“There isn’t actually a legal right to strike in this country. The current law on postal ballots already makes it hard for unions to conduct a legal ballot, and if all those rules are not complied with employers can sue a union. The proposal of Michael Gove is to set a bigger trap to make it harder for unions to remain immune to that legal action.
It’s not a question of union strike ballots lacking a ‘democratic mandate’. Boris Johnson was elected as London mayor in 2008 on 19% of those eligible to vote and some Tory Police Commissioners won their elections in 2012 on votes as little as 7% of those eligible to vote! The Tory Party itself in the 2010 election got less than 25% of the 45 million people eligible to vote. Yet they want to impose on trade unions a higher threshold than applies to themselves in elections to public office.
Trade unionists always want a maximum turnout and a maximum yes vote for any action. And we had much higher turnouts and votes when decisions were made either at mass meetings at workplaces or by ballots issued and collected at workplaces.
The Tories brought in (and Labour never reversed!) a raft of requirements all designed to make it easier to trip up unions. And employers have been quick to go to court on the tiniest technical detail (including one infamous case when, despite a turnout of 78% and a yes vote of 87%, train drivers’ union Aslef was taken to court, and employers initially won an injunction, because ballot papers had been given to two drivers who it turned out were not entitled to vote!).
On 10 July one and a half million workers sacrificed a day’s wage to make a stand against years of pay freezes, attacks on pensions and living standards.
Those on strike represented millions more workers who feel the same anger towards the Con-Dem government.
As the prison officers have shown (whose right to strike has been completely removed) when that anger boils over and action is taken, it will take more than a new rule from Michael Gove to stop working people challenging austerity.”
TUSC is currently arranging trade union delegations to Labour Party prospective parliamentary candidates to see whether any of them are serious about reversing the austerity agenda.
On the issue of trade union rights we will be asking them whether they support the provisions in the Labour MP John McDonnell’s ‘Trade Union Rights and Freedom Bill’, on reintroducing protections for participating in industrial action, (and on other union issues such as the reinstatement of facility time and check off rights removed by the Con-Dem coalition).
The nature of their replies will help decide whether local TUSC groups add those constituencies to the list of possible challenges in the 2015 general election.