Friday 13 January 2023
Trade unions: coercion or co-operation?
Since the 1980s, the days of the Thatcher governments and trade unions as "the enemy within, " there has been a plethora of legislation designed to restrict the ability of trade unions to make their case. Sympathy strikes (aka secondary action), have been outlawed; the right to picket restricted; Unions are no longer permtted to strike on the decision the executive committee, or a show of hands, but a ballot in suport has been required; since 1984 (an interesting year in co-ercive history) the ballots have had to be postal, so very expensive for the union to organise; a simple majority in such a ballot is not sufficient - the turnout must be at least 50% and at least 40% of the total membership must have voted in favour;* Unions have been required to give at least 7 days notice of the inention to stirke (it may now be 14); employers have the right to seek an injunctio if they can show that not all the correct procedures have been flollowed; the unions' immunity from being sued over lost trade or profits resuting from a srike, establised by the overturning of the Taff Vale Judgemnt by the Liberal government of 1906, has been reduced; if a union wishes to have a political fund to support a party it must gain apporval from the membership via a ballot (this one has backfired on the Tories - more unions now have polical funds which contribute to the Labour Party than before the act. Sadly there is no provison for the membership to stipulate which party, so we Liberal Democrats stillget nothing); the internal rules and procedures of each union are subject to supervision by an external body set up by the government. The latest co-ercive move, introduced into parliament this week, is to try to legislate that during strikes "key services" must maintain "minimum service levels." This is a totally unnecessary, and potentially counter-productive, move becasue they already do. The Interantional Labour Orgaisation (ILO) of which the UK is a founder member, has customs which provide for this. In the darkest days of the Miners' Strike the pits were kept operational, airlfows were maintained, and safety and security procedures coninued. During the current NHS disput the nurses continue to perform emergency work, and the Ambulance and Fire and Rescue services continue te respond to "life and limb" calls. As in Europe, these arrangements are made at local level, as far as I know amicably, and taking into acount local requiremts. The Government's Bill, which probably contravenes the Euroean Convention on Human Rights (nothing to do with the EU and of which the UK is a founder and still a signatory) would enable the government bullies to blunder in, determine conditions, unilaterally declare them to have been breached - and them what? Sack the workers involved and leave, say, the health and education services shorter of key operatives than they already are? Clarly the aim of the legislation is not to try to resolve the current disputes or to protect the public, but twofold: to persudae Tory Party members that the goverment is stiffened with the Thatcherite determiation that so many of them admire: and in the hope that the voting public will fail to read bewteen the lines and turn against the stikers, and therefore the Labour party, and towards a governmet fighting to look after them. It has been a Liberal/Liberal Democrat tenet for all the years I've been a member that employment relations should not be a battleground but an area of co-operation. Rather that further conflict betwen capital and labour (if those two concepts still have relevence) we need structures to encouage employers and employees to work together, such as employee representation on boards and, where appropriate, a sharing of the profits. * Just to spell this out, this maans tha, on a 50% trunout, there needs to be a vote in favour of 80% for a strike to be valid. The Brixit referendum would not have reached the threshopd required of a union vote becasue amoy 37% of those entiteld to vote chose Leave. Tthere's one law for some things and another for others.