Unable to argue against the justice of striking to reinstate wrongfully-sacked Eammon Lynch and Arwyn Thomas, Boris Johnson and cohorts at the Standard resorted to rattling their sabres against our very right to strike.
The Mayor blasted our ‘idiotic’ two weeks of action. He is pressing the government for legislation to curb the right of essential workers to strike. His proposal, which is gaining support of backbench Tory MPs, is that a minimum of 50% of those eligible to vote (not just of the votes cast) must be in favour of a strike. Immediately before the strikes, Vince Cable pressured Boris to engage the trade unions on his home turf. But last week, Chancellor George Osborne joined Boris’ chorus of anti-union rhetoric, promising to ‘move industrial relations into the 21st Century’.
These Tory toffs rage that we dare obstruct their otherwise total service to the wealthy and powerful! We could laugh it off, but the government is obviously determined to take us on. We need to confidently and assertively defend our right to strike!
Boris claims his 50% minimum is ‘democratic’. And this from a man who was elected by just 19% of the eligible electorate! The recent AV referendum election was only a 41% turnout. These proposals would corrupt ballot results by counting every abstention as a ‘no’ vote. How can that be democratic?
Using low ballot turnout against the union movement adds insult to injury when you look at the history of anti-union legislation. Workers used to be able to vote to take action in our workplace, by show of hands: a majority in favour - ‘Everybody out!’ THAT was democratic. Despite the cariacatures of the "bad old days of trade union militancy" painted by the right-wing press, and although union leaders did not always behave democratically, workplace democracy was democratic. The vast majority took part; the vote took place where it was relevant and you were able to act on it immediately. Workers are not slaves. Of course it should be up to us when we withdraw our labour.
Thatcher banned workplace votes and introduced ballots to reduce support for strikes. She knew that it’s more effort to check your post and return the ballot paper than to vote in a meeting where you work, and she wanted workers to decide on voting in isolation at home rather than alongsde our workmates. Low ballot turnout was engineered by Tory legislation. And now, they have the cheek to preach to us about democracy and low turnout!
In the UK, we already have ‘the most restrictive trade union laws of anywhere in the Western World’, as Tony Blair once boasted. We can only strike over a narrow range of issues. We have to be balloted, within a certain legal time-frame, giving the employer notice of exactly when and how many people will strike, all deliberately to undermine our action. And they claim we are too powerful!
As workers, we need to fight for our right to strike. Until recently we had no right to strike at all; just a series of immunities if we jumped through all the legal hoops. A recent court ruling about a DLR strike found that the right to strike is implied here. But it is still too restricted.
We need to proudly proclaim we do nothing wrong when we strike. Although our employers buy the majority of our most productive time, they do not own us entirely. If we want to withhold a day or a week from them, it is still up to us. We need to say that democracy means the right to strike!
Every trade union member should feel a part of the fight for trade union rights. Our union leaders have not led this fight with enthusiasm, perhaps because it benefits them to use it as an excuse for not taking industrial action. We, as ordinary members of our unions need to get organised, and push our leaders to lead a high profile political campaign.