Trade unions are right to oppose this repressive bill. Here’s why.

Press reports of union 'militancy' swap cause and effect

 

Today’s papers are ablaze with tales of trade union militancy as the Trades Union Congress holds its annual meeting.

The Daily Mail’sUNIONS THREATEN STRIKE MAYHEM‘ is pretty representative. (See the Times and the Telegraph.)

The stories are part of a general portrayal of the Labour party – and the Left more generally  – as being dangerous, like dog let off the leash, following the election of Jeremy Corbyn.

But they also serve to influence public opinion on the government’s Trade Union Bill, being debated by MPs today, to make it seem like a necessary check on union excess.

The Mail didn’t even bother to hide its anti-union bias, blurring the distinction between news and editorial:

“The laws, which will require a 50 per cent turnout for any strike ballot to be legal, are designed to stop the reckless and damaging strikes that have hit schools, hospitals and transport links.”

So says their news story today.

In fact, we are living through a period of a historically low number of strikes.

Strikes_historically

And the union laws on the books are already among the most restrictive in Europe.

Consider then, in this context, these measures proposed by the government:

  • Requiring a 50 per cent turnout and 40 per cent support in union votes for strike action. Failure to achieve this would make a strike illegal.
  • Requiring strikers to designate a strike leader, who must wear an armband and give their details to police. Employees are obviously going to be worried about putting their neck out like this (who wants their details on a police database?). This is a clear attempt to intimidate people. Plus, by putting so much pressure on one person, this cuts at the root of the idea of collective action and solidarity.
  • Requiring employees tell police whether they will have signs, banners and a megaphone two weeks before the strike. So much for the element of surprise!
  • Requiring employees tell police what they plan to Tweet or post on social media during the strike, again with 14 days notice. Police pre-approval of Tweets, two weeks in advance? Not repressive at all, that.
  • Allow employers to bus in agency staff to replace striking workers, shrinking the effect of the strike on the employer, and robbing workers of their only real tool; their ability to refuse to work.

The ‘reforms’ have even been condemned by Amnesty International as a ‘major attack on civil liberties’.

Perhaps this is why some union leaders are calling for mass industrial action – not for the sake of it, but in response to a plain effort by this government to weaken their power, and the collective power of workers to organise and act together.

Meanwhile, the press give the government cover by portraying the unions as aggressors needing to be tamed, rather than simply aware of when their own existence is threatened.

Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter

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6 Responses to “Trade unions are right to oppose this repressive bill. Here’s why.”

  1. Selohesra

    My travel to work has been disrupted several times by strike action this year (as it was last year and the year before etc) – if we really are at a historically low level of strikes we are still having too many.

  2. Jacko

    “Requiring a 50 per cent turnout and 40 per cent support in union votes for strike action. Failure to achieve this would make a strike illegal. This is a very high bar.”
    Is it? 40% of 50% of members is just 20% of all members are required to vote Yes. I’d call that a low bar.

    Before someone says, “well, the Tories were elected with less than that,”, that’s because a general election is not a binary choice like voting for strike action, so the analogy is a very poor one.

    Requiring strikers to designate a strike leader, who must wear an armband and give their details to police. Employees are obviously going to be worried about putting their neck out like this (who wants they’re details on a police database?). This is a clear attempt to intimidate people. Plus, by putting so much pressure on one person, this cuts at the root of the idea of collective action and solidarity.

    Someone organises strikes. They don’t just happen by accident. If you’re going to bring the transport network to a standstill then the general public have a right to know who is leading that action. We all know who the names of company bosses. Let’s have the names of strike leaders. Come on, if you’re so proud of your legitimate grievance, have the balls to put your name to it.

    Allow employers to bus in agency staff to replace striking workers, shrinking the effect of the strike on the employer, and robbing workers of their only real tool; their ability to refuse to work.
    Perfectly reasonable that an employer may wish to mitigate the effect of a strike on his business or the nation’s infrastructure.

  3. blarg1987

    It is with reference to the nation as a whole not a section of the country which you are referring to.

  4. blarg1987

    By your own logic, should all shareholders be named if they vote for a poor CEO who screws over the company? After all we should have a right to know should we not, including the ring leader who encouraged shareholders to vote for said party?

    Once you go down this slippery slope, where do you stop, would you allow shops to sue customers who decide not to shop their any more, and “ruining the country’s economy” by not shopping their?

    if the answer is no because people should be free to exercise choice without fear of recrimination, then you have just contradicted yourself, as in effect TU staff would face recrimination through agency staff taking over their employment which is what the bill would eventually lead to.

    Also the policy is untenable unless it is applied to voting through legislation in parliament or any yes or no vote in any organisation, both public or private including PLC’s and boards.

  5. TomSacold

    Requiring 50% of the total voters to vote seems quite reasonable where a strike is concerned.

  6. Harold

    “His” business? Like the rest of your views from Eastern Europe before the wall came down or 1850’s.

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