News & Analysis  •  Workplace, Trade Unions, Strikes

New anti-union laws tighten the noose

02 November 2022
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By KD Tait

IN THE dying days of the Johnson government, a new law was passed allowing bosses to break strikes by employing temporary agency staff.

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng boasted, “This was a criminal offence. Now it’s an option for business.” The Tory programme summed up in a tweet!

The change also raised the maximum penalty a union can be fined for unlawful action from £25,000 to £1 million. This represents a serious tightening of what Tony Blair described as “the most restrictive anti-union laws in Europe,” and that wasn’t meant as a criticism!

As if this wasn’t enough, one of the few things achieved by Liz Truss was the introduction of further anti-strike legislation. The Bill proposes to institute minimum service levels during transport strikes.

Further measures will give employers the whip hand by compelling unions to suspend action and ballot the membership on every new pay offer. Any trade unionist can tell you that that this would effectively outlaw all strikes, because the bosses would simply offer slightly different versions of the same terrible deal over and over again.

Addressing the TUC Congress in October, outgoing General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Today I give ministers notice. We’ve already taken legal counsel and we know you’re in breach of international law and trade deals that enshrine labour standards. So read my lips: we will see you in court.”

The idea that the bosses’ courts will come to our rescue is a dangerous illusion and shows how the unwilling the union leaders are to stand up and fight. We must do that ourselves.

Almost all effective trade union action—solidarity strikes, flying pickets, workplace voting—is already outlawed. But enough is enough.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch described the proposals as ‘the latest step in a clampdown on democratic dissent, which every trades unionist and democrat must oppose’. Too right—but what are the unions going to do about it?

This summer, Lynch threatened a general strike if minimum service laws are brought in. But this fighting talk was just that; the left union leaders will never act without the TUC—and the failure of these “lefts” to put a general strike on the agenda at the recent TUC Congress shows they won’t act unless there is pressure and organisation from below.

We call for the creation of cross-union rank and file committees in every workplace to prepare the necessary action: mass pickets to stop scab labour breaking strikes, stewards’ groups to defend pickets from police harassment, wildcat action against victimisation.

Any tightening of the anti-union laws or their use to outlaw strikes or penalise unions must be met with the full solidarity of the entire labour movement—a general strike to smash the anti-union laws.

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