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Thursday 16 July 2015

Union Bashing - A Warning From History

Once again, Young Dave and his jolly good chaps have decided to pick a fight on an issue which does not exactly align with the manifesto on which they fought last May’s General Election, and that is Trades Unions and the ability of their members to withdraw their labour. Business Secretary Sajid Javid has clearly decided to out-Tebbit Norman Tebbit, as he also seeks to turn the screw on the Labour Party’s finances.
You Union cheppies over thyah! Nigh don't you dare dine tools or you'll be in trouble!! Jolly good sheow!!!

As Patrick Wintour at the Guardian observed, there werenew plans to criminalise picketing, permit employers to hire strike-breaking agency staff and choke off the flow of union funds to the Labour party … The scale of the reforms goes far wider than the previously trailed plan for strikes to be made unlawful unless 50% of those being asked to strike vote in the ballot”. And there was more.

Javid “is also to require that at least 40% of those asked to vote support the strike in most key public services. In the case of 100 teachers asked to strike, the action would only be lawful if at least 50 teachers voted and 40 of them backed the strike. The double threshold would have to be met in any strike called in health, education, fire, transport, border security and energy sectors – including the Border Force and nuclear decommissioning”.

But where it really becomes interesting is here: Javid will “Propose that unlawful or intimidatory picketing should become a criminal as opposed to civil offence”, and “Give the government certification officer powers to fine trade unions as much as £20,000 for breaches of reporting rules”. That does not hark back to Tebbit, as much as all the way back to what Sailor Heath tried in the early 1970s.

And here is the lesson, although it is doubtful that Cameron, Javid and the rest will be minded to heed it. It was thought at the end of the 1960s that the use of strikes and other industrial action was getting out of hand in some industries, especially the public sector. Harold Wilson’s Labour Government had backed away from legislating; Heath, who was returned to power in 1970 with a majority of 31, did not.

An Industrial Relations Court was created. Compulsory “cooling-off periods” were imposed. This had one immediate but seemingly unexpected effect: the creation of Union “martyrs”, who defied the Court and thus ended up in jail. What the new laws did not do was to curb industrial action: Heath’s tenure was blighted by two national miners’ strikes, and two more by the power workers, both resulting in electricity blackouts.

Industrial relations are on a different footing nowadays, but the lesson is the same: imposing legislation that is seen as unnecessarily partisan, punitive and unfair may gain victory in a court of law, but lose the battle in the court of public opinion. And demanding a minimum vote threshold when those making the laws would not have been elected, had it been in place for the General Election, is just taking the piss.

Javid’s proposals are little short of spiteful. Even the Tory press will struggle to sell them.


Anonymous said...

Reading many of the comments on facebook or other sites, you can see that theres a very bitter section of the public who, rather than stand up for themselves or decide that unions are a required evil would prefer to beat up on others down the pecking order and berate those who were prepared to stand up and take action to keep their pay and conditions.

I think they'll love this, it's the chance to beat up on someone without having to do anything themselves. I wonder who they'll blame when it all goes to pot in a few years time, not themselves I suspect.

Andy McDonald said...

What's the old definition of appeasement - feeding others to a tiger in the hope you're eaten last?

I think we're turning into a society of appeasers.

Anonymous said...

Industrial action was (and is) only ever taken as a last resort. Nobody except mere provocateurs wants to have their life disrupted.

And mere provocateurs aren't strong enough to cause widespread discontent. Only manifestly unfair or oppressive economic conditions can do that. In other words, as Trotsky said, "The revolution only happens when there's no other way out." For a minor example of which, see Greece. Sooner or later enough people say enough is indeed enough. At which point all the propaganda and political manipulation in the world will fail. When a society rots from the inside eventually it collapses. It's only a matter of time, though just how long can't be forecast.

Neocons of course will keep pushing until they actually ban industrial action altogether. If we let them.