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I Fought the law but…

Comments Off on I Fought the law but… 12 September 2017

I Fought the law but...

No one who is observing the direction of the Labour Party (with horror, in my case) will be in the least bit surprised that its main power broker, UNITE general secretary Len McCluskey, has spoken of the likelihood of there being co-ordinated strikes in the public sector to protest against the government’s 1% pay cap. Also, you know it’s a very bad idea when PCS supremo Mark Serwotka piles in to say the same thing. But when McCluskey, and later Labour shadow cabinet member Richard Burgon, either call for, or refuse to rule out support for, illegal strikes you begin to fear the worst.

There is no doubt that Britain’s strike laws are among the most oppressive in mainstream Europe, if not the world. Unions need a 50% turn out just to make strike action legitimate and then only by obtaining the support for action of 40% of those eligible to vote. Aside from unions like the train drivers, these are figures that are all but impossible to reach. Serwotka’s own union, PCS, is perhaps a poor example given how weak it is, but many of its ballots rarely achieve a turn out of as much as 10%. Regularly, it is much lower than that. As most unions will get nowhere near the 50% threshold, the calls for action are unlikely to deliver strikes and that’s where support for illegal action is suggested by the likes of McCluskey. Let us be clear about the possible consequences of workers taking illegal strike action. They may lose their jobs.

Take strike action in defiance of the law leaves workers more than vulnerable. They will immediately lose legal protections. If their employer fires them, that will be that. There will be no mechanisms for appeal. Job done, job gone.

Of course, Serwotka is not totally stupid. He is, at least initially, calling for a consultative ballot to gauge the support of civil servants, with a question that will be similar to “Do you think you earn rubbish money and want some more?” It will certainly not be “Do you fancy going on indefinite unpaid all-out strike action – oh, and you might get the sack because it’s an illegal strike?” This is not a sensible way forward for working people. Ask one question and pretend you have the answer to another. Classic Serwotka.

The first thing the unions and Labour should be doing is seeking to change the law. These changes were brought in with the minimum of fuss, not least from union members who long ago realised that strike action usually doesn’t work. I was a union member for over 40 years, first in CPSA and later in the basket case that was PCS, led by Serwotka, and in all that time I struggle to recall a single major national dispute where the union won. Members lost lots of money over the years but they won few, if any, victories. This is not going to change now.

The vast majority of people are not in unions and that’s a fact. Unions are still well organised in the public sector and what remains of our manufacturing industry, but hardly anywhere else. A government, even one as weak as this one, would easily see off the worst the unions can throw at them. If the strike is against the law, do the comrades seriously believe there will be public sympathy? Any union member who took illegal action, in the full knowledge they would get the sack if they took, and then got sacked would not attract sympathy either.

With the comrades now in charge of the machine, Labour dashes further and further to the hard left extremes. Some of us have all but given up on Labour now and politically motivated illegal strikes are several steps too far for me.

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