Cameron says Tory 2015 manifesto will include new anti-strike laws

Submitted by AWL on 13 May, 2014 - 5:54

David Cameron has threatened new anti-union laws to make it harder for unions to call lawful strikes.

Cameron said: “When strikes are going to take place that are hugely disruptive to other people’s lives they should at least have the support of a good share of the members of that trade union.” He is reported to be considering a proposal from London mayor Boris Johnson that strike ballots must secure an absolute majority, rather than just a majority of those voting, to provide a mandate for legal strike action.

New anti-union laws of this kind have long been called for by Boris Johnson, and others on the right of the Tory party, but Cameron’s endorsement for them is a sign that they may be gaining more traction and edging closer to reality.

Even on its own terms, Cameron and Johnson’s case is hypocritical and disingenuous. Boris Johnson, having been elected on a turnout of 38%, would not hold office if his proposal was applied to his own election. And it does not at all follow that a union member who did not vote in a strike ballot can automatically be considered to oppose the strike, as Johnson claims.

Low turnouts in union ballots are themselves products of the corrosive effects of decade of restrictive anti-union laws. Thatcherite legislation, unchallenged during 13 years of Labour government, compels unions to hold postal ballots for strikes, individualising and atomising what should be a collective decision-making process, shaped by face-to-face discussion, assembly, and voting in workplaces themselves.

It is now fairly routine for employers to seek, and win, injunctions against unions to rule strikes illegal, as at Lambeth College in south London recently. There is, technically, no positive right to strike enshrined in British law, so the law is already hugely weighted against unions.

The labour movement’s current campaigning against the anti-union laws is largely tokenistic. The Campaign for Trade Union Freedom, formed in 2013 from a merger of two separate campaigns (the United Campaign for the Repeal of the Anti-Trade Union Laws, and the Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions), organising briefings and speakers meetings, with top tables heavy with union general secretaries. But there is little rank-and-file involvement, and no direct action focus. Few unions have been prepared to confront the anti-union laws head on.

A more confrontational attitude will be needed if this latest potential attack is to be seen off, and if organised labour in Britain is to win greater freedoms to fight.

Comments

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 03/07/2014 - 13:42

This is what Cameron said on the Andrew Marr show, 11 May 2014. It suggests a threshold for ballot turnouts rather than for ballot majorities.

ANDREW MARR:... there have been proposals – including from Boris Johnson – for a change in the law on public sector strikes to raise the bar for the number of people actually voting.

DAVID CAMERON: Yeah.

ANDREW MARR: Is this something that you’re attracted by and will do something about?

DAVID CAMERON: Yes, I think in these essential services like the London Underground, the pain caused to people trying to get to work and trying to help their families by these strikes, which are often supported by a relatively small percentage of people who work for London Underground, I think is hugely damaging. So I think the time has come for setting thresholds in strike ballots in essential services. It’s not something I can achieve in a coalition government...

ANDREW MARR: It is something for your manifesto....

DAVID CAMERON: It is something that will be in our manifesto.

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