The Tories have wasted no time in turning their manifesto plan to further straight jacket the unions in law.
Proposals in the Trade Union Bill include a 50% minimum turn out and a 40% threshold of those in favour of action in certain “key sectors”: health; education for under 17s; transport; fire services; border security and the decommissioning of nuclear plants and management of waste.
Whilst these thresholds are not impossible to meet — the recent national strike action voted for by RMT members at Network Rail would have been legal under the new arrangements — they are extremely difficult.
To give an example: the civil service union that I’m a member of, PCS, has never had a higher than 50% turn out in any national ballot, and we have had many ballots. The highest we have achieved is a 42.5% turn out. For us, this will probably mean a concentration on localised disputes rather than big set-piece national disputes.
There are also plans to increase the notification period for ballots from seven to 14 days. Strike mandates will also have a life of only four months. For the first time the legal framework for picketing will be covered by criminal, rather than civil, law.
Also worrying are the proposals on political funds. Individual union members will need to opt in to paying towards the political fund. Whilst not included in the Bill, it is likely that there will be an amendment proposed, and supported by the government, that says not only should union members indicate that they want to pay the levy but they can also nominate which party the funds go to. There is a real danger that unions will have to collect funds for the Tories or UKIP. This amendments is likely to come from the SNP (who want the money) with potential backing from the Greens.
In the long run unions could be discourgaed from having political funds altogther. Unions will withdraw even further from the arena of politics.
The Right to Strike campaign has been formed by rank and file union members in branches. As well as campaigning against the changes we advocate positive rights for trade unionists such as workplace balloting, mass membership meetings to decide on industrial action, to strike over “political issues” such as privatisation, the right to take solidarity action in support of other workers, and the right to take effective picketing action including picketing workplaces other than your own. All of this is currently illegal in the UK.
The labour movement is moving slowly on fighting the introduction of new laws, let alone actually fighting for a positive right to strike. The TUC has called a national lobby of Parliament on the third reading of the bill in November, but is currently ignoring calls for a national demonstration. Little action has been organised by the official labour movement bodies apart from the lobby.
At the most recent Right to Strike London mobilising meeting we decided to organise direct action. We will be targeting Tory hypocrite MPs who were elected on less than 40% of the electorate. We are also organising for a national demonstration, pressuring the unions and TUC, but also calling on those who agree to help us mobilise for one ourselves.
Mobilising meetings have happened, or will be happening, in the North-West, Brighton, Sheffield, Newcastle and Nottingham. We call on activists to attend these or organise their own.