Fight for the right to strike

Submitted by AWL on 15 September, 2015 - 6:20 Author: Gemma Short

On Monday 14 September the Trade Union Bill had its second reading in parliament, and passed by 317 votes to 284.

This is not the end of the struggle against the bill. It is time for the labour movement to pick itself up and start organising against the bill.

As the bill was being debated in Parliament on Monday, trade unionists gathered outside to protest. The protest, called at short notice by Ian Hodson, National President of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers' Union (BFAWU), and supported by Right to Strike, Unite the Resistance and the National Shop Stewards Network, was attended by over 200 trade unionists and campaigners.

The majority of the trade union leadership are still sleep-walking into letting this bill pass with little organised resistance from our movement. No moves have been made by the TUC for a national demonstration against the bill, and the protest outside Parliament for the second reading would not have happened without the work of rank and file trade unionists and the leadership of the BFAWU.

Earlier on Monday, activists with Right to Strike displayed a 22 metre long banner reading “Stop the anti-union bill, Right to Strike campaign” from the Thames Embankment opposite the Houses of Parliament

Hopefully MPs saw this as they went into their offices that morning. Right to Strike also held the banner across the width of Westminster Bridge, stopping traffic.

The campaign against this bill must mobilise rank-and-file trade unionists, and be part of a project of refreshing and transforming our unions to be organised from the bottom up. This is essential for us to have any hope of defeating the bill, but it will also build a basis from which we can actually break the laws if they are passed.

Many speeches at the protest on Monday night called for mass disobedience if the trade union bill is passed, for unions to take illegal strike action.

Breaking the law, if passed, will be necessary and we should discuss the possibility now. We should make sure union leaders are not allowed to call off strikes citing the law as a reason.

But the trade union movement has suffered years of defeats and years of top down bureacratic management — it is not currently in a state where workers are convinced and gearing up for illegal strikes. And we would be kidding ourselves if we thought the leaderships of unions are gung ho for illegal strikes, in fact the legality of ballots or action has been used time and time again by union officials to prevent or delay strikes.

Many also called for the TUC to call a general strike now to defeat the law before it passes. Such a strike would be illegal under current laws, and it would take a much more energised, democratic and rank-and-file controlled movement to organise such a strike and convince workers of the need for it.

Building a movement the fight the trade union bill that mobilises rank-and-file trade unionists will get us to the sort of future where we can effectively break the laws, and a movement that can effectively resist cuts, privatisations and fight to better pay and conditions.

Right to Strike has set up a London mobilising group based on trade union branches.

We call on trade unionists, and activists in the left, to come to our open mobilising meetings to help us organise protests, stunts, workplace leafleting, street stalls and other public activity against the bill.

Trade union branches and trades councils should set up such mobilising groups across the country and do similar protests and public activity.

The TUC demonstration at Tory Party conference should and will be a focus for activity, and Right to Strike has called a bloc on the demonstration.

On Wednesday 9 September Right to Strike served our second “high court injunction”, this time on Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Many strikes have been stopped by bosses seeking high court injunctions against them, questioning the legality of their ballots. As the Tories seek to make it so that strikes in key industries are voted for by 40% of eligible voters we are putting Tories' general election results to the test.

Sajid Javid was elected with 38% of the electorate — in our mock trial we agreed this violates the concept of democracy he wants to apply to trade unions, and found him guilty.

Over thirty protesters joined us outside the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, where unfortunately security wouldn't let us in to speak to Mr Javid. Instead we leafletted workers and the public and chanted slogans about the Trade Union Bill.

We will continue doing such stunts and protests - if you want to get involved come to one of our open mobilising meetings.

Our next London mobilising meeting is Tuesday 22 September, 7 p.m., Birkbeck College, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HX.

• Right to Strike


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