Prior to Unison’s national delegates conference (16-19 June), Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis released a press statement about the Tories’ proposed anti-union laws. But neither his statement nor the conference itself resolved to do anything much about the biggest threat to union organisation in two decades.
The new laws would require a 50% turnout threshold in a ballot and an additional 40% yes vote requirement in “core public services” (health, education, transport and fire services). Essentially outlawing all national strikes.
The laws will also make it a requirement for union members to “opt-in” to a union’s political fund rather than “opt-out”. The ability of the labour movement to fund its political party, to have a voice in politics, is crucial.
The businesses and wealthy individuals who fund the Tory part have no such restrictions!
Entitled “you will not crush us!” the intention of Prentis’ statement was clearly to sound militant, but highlight how little the major public sector union is doing to fight cuts or the new laws.
Prentis talks of a loss of members in the public sector due to job cuts, only to say that’s all okay because Unison has recruited well in the private sector. Nothing about fighting job losses or privatisations in the first place!
Prentis called the Government’s plans “vindictive” and said the union “could mount a legal challenge”. That “the new law would make no difference to the union’s strategy on industrial action”. But none of Unison’s national strike ballots in the last five years would make the Tory’s requirements.
Prentis appears to echo TUC General Secretary Francis O’Grady’s appeal to “box clever” saying “We must review everything we do. It would be tragic to behave like First World War generals, leading people over the top only for them to be shot down. We must choose our battles carefully.”
The Campaign for Trade Union Freedom, a campaign sponsored by most unions, has its AGM on Saturday 27 June. The AGM is only for two hours and there is a small slot as item seven on the agenda to discuss the new attack. Hardly on a war footing.
Whilst we must fight the new attacks, it is not enough to simply defend the status quo.
We don’t have a “right to strike”; the UK has one of the most restrictive trade union laws in the western world. Postal ballots instead of workplace ballots, no right to strike over “political issues”, and notice periods all hold back unions and allow bosses ways to challenge a ballot in court.
We must campaign for positive demands — for a right to strike.
The official leadership of the labour movement looks set to timidly roll over in the face of these attacks. We must change that. If they won’t organise a national demonstration for the right to strike union branches must take them to task — and organise the demonstration themselves.
Trade union activists in Workers’ Liberty are looking to work with others to pressure the union leaders into taking action, and to take action if they don’t.
• A model motion can be found here