Tories’ planned changes to strike laws would “make legal strikes close to impossible”, say unions

12th May, 2015 1:38 pm

Five days into the first Tory majority government in 18 years and already we have a number policies on the table. Alongside proposals to scrap the Human Right Act and reducing the benefits cap from £26,000 to £23,000 we can now add plans to make “significant changes” to strike laws.


Sajid Javid, who was appointed Business Secretary yesterday as part of David Cameron’s reshuffle, has said that changes to strike laws will be part of the government’s Queen Speech.

Javid told the BBC’s Today programme that under new laws, strikes affecting health, transport, fire services or schools would have to be backed by 40% of union members and that there would have to be a minimum 50% turnout in ballots. The Tories attempted to make similar changes during the last government but were blocked from doing so by the Lib Dems.

As it stands, for a strike to be considered valid it has to be supported by the majority of people balloted.

Unions have criticised the government’s move as an attack on ‘democratic and legitimate rights’ and said that it if these proposals were implemented workers may have to go on illegal strikes.

The TUC’s General Secretary Frances O’Grady said these new laws would benefit the country’s “worst bosses” and that they would  “make legal strikes close to impossible”, adding “union negotiators will be left with no more power than Oliver Twist when he asked for more.”


Unite’s assistant general secretary, Steve Turner has also lambasted the government’s proposals:

“The divisive face of Conservatism has not taken long to reveal its face with the new business secretary Sajid Javid suggesting a 50 per cent turnout of all eligible union members voting for industrial action, instead of the straight majority now required.

“It is a terrible shame and a big mistake that one of the government’s first acts is to attempt to reduce rights for working people that even past Tory administrations have upheld.

“Voters did not put a tick in the box for this, especially as David Cameron has pledged that he wanted to reach out to all corners of Britain in the traditions of One Nation Conservatism.

“Many of the electors, who provided the Tories with their slim majority, are working people concerned about justice and fairness in the workplace.

“They won’t understand why this proposal is coming from a new administration with just 36.9 per cent of the vote to underpin its legitimacy.

“Unite urges Sajid Javid and his colleagues think long and hard about this move as there are better ways of improving the mechanisms for industrial action ballots, such as electronic voting and ballots at the workplace.

“We are open for constructive discussions with ministers on these issues.”

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  • Sunny Jim

    Less than a week from a disatrous election result and feet are being blown off already:

    1. Do you think the typical voter thinks it’s unreasonable that a majority of union membership votes for a strike? If the grievance is legitimate then there shouldn’t be any problem – the only issue will be for the head bangers who want to cause strife illegitimately.

    2. Do you think the typical voter supports the abuses of the HRA? Do you think they will support it or back the Tories reform so the ridiculous judgements will be a thing of the past whilst still protecting those who need protection?

    3. Reducing the benefits cap to £23,000. I don’t know exactly what the take home pay is for someone on NMW (£14,000 pa?). How much support do you think the typical voter has for keeping the cap at £26,000?

    If this is how Labour intend to campaign over the next 5 years they may as well pack up now.

    Seriously, it’s insane.

    • Andrew Bartlett

      On ‘1’ – the topic of this post – the answer is “no, not if we let the Tories control the argument about what is ‘legitimate'”. But elections don’t work that way, despite ‘common sense’ suggesting that they ought. The Tories won 37% of the votes cast, but only 26% or so of the registered voters. That is well short of the 40% of union members (not voters) the Tories are proposing to make the requirement for strike action. Yet, if they maintain party discipline, they can govern unimpeded. More or less. More when they scrap the HRA, to mention briefly your point ‘2’. Key Labour figures are depressingly pessimistic – presenting 26% as a crushing victory, a mandate, etc. So we know, and the public know – and accept – that what seems to be by common sense ‘democratic’ isn’t actually the way elections work.

      And with that, who are the illegitimate head bangers? The union members who win a majority strike ballot, or the government who seek to redraw the balance of power between workers and bosses firmly in favour of the bosses on the basis of barely a quarter of our demos?

      • Sunny Jim

        We’re viewing the article from different viewpoints.

        I’m saying what I suspect the typical voter will think of the proposals and you’re replying as a Union/Labour activist.

        If Labour want to recover they need to ditch their ideological baggage from yesteryear and view their policies through the eyes of a swing voter.

        And i’m telling you now strike majorities, replacing the HRA and capping benefits at a very generous £23,000 are NOT policies you want to be opposing if you ever want to govern again.

        But as I say – knock yourself out if you disagree.

        • vincethur

          So anything thats not a vote winner you should just agree with or ignore totally. What a man of principle you are.

          • imw101

            Ask Chuka. He apparently thinks Miiband was not a vote winner – now.

          • vincethur

            not sure of the link but carry on.

          • Ian

            Yeah, he hadn’t noticed for four years!

        • Andrew Bartlett

          But the question is, is Labour to be *for* anything? Is it going to say this is what we beleive in, here’s why, and we hope you are persuaded? Or is it just going to try to win power, following changes in the opinion of the middle 10% of the electorate as its only principle. Power and principles aren’t incompatible, but a Labour Party that doesn’t oppose the effective end to the collective power of organised labour by waving through the most regressive union laws in Europe… that’s not a party, that’s a company of management consultants bidding for work.

          And here’s the rub – whether the proposed laws sound ‘fair’, what will be their effect? To hand power to bosses, owners, and capital. To increase the squeeze on the squeezed middle, as pay and conditions are eroded year on year. You earn a wage? You’ve got – buzz word – aspirations? File them with your other dreams.

          Effective unions raise the pay and conditions of the industries in which they operate. This is aspirational. But they also raise the pay and conditions of non-unionised workers as the gains of the unionised workers ripple through the market. This is aspirational.

          • Ian

            If you don’t win power does it really matter what you believe?

          • Andrew Bartlett

            Yes, it does actually. If every voice is Tory, if every voice is pro-owner and anti-worker, then the Overton window moves that much further to the right, making even more extreme ideas acceptable, and rendering what were once the basis of decent social democracy ‘far left’.

            And yes, it does actually, as if you speak Tory to get elected and then don’t act Tory, that’s a pretty despicably anti-democratic, and if you speak Tory to get elected and then act Tory, all you have done is elevated yourself and won power for your organisation.

            And, on a more general point, if people think you don’t believe in anything, they’re not going to vote for you – or if they do it’ll be a marker that the democratic system is fundamentally hollow.

            So, yes, it does matter.

          • Ian

            What I mean is that if you don’t “believe” in policies which resonate with the electorate then it really doesn’t matter as you will never get the chance to put them into action.

            Labour shouldn’t try to out-Tory the Tories as the electorate will always prefer the real thing to Tory-lite as you rightly say. However they need to be realistic as to what the electorate can stomach. Just telling lies about the NHS won’t work as Ed found out.

          • am1974

            Why is it always assumed that pro-owner is anti-worker, this is, in and of itself the reason that labour fail to resonate with people. People have jobs, they work for individuals, corporations with share holders and they clearly don’t all feel that the people for whom they work are “anti-worker”

          • Andrew Bartlett

            Apologies am1974, my post above was meant as a response to your question.

          • Andrew Bartlett

            First, I wrote, “If every voice is Tory, if every voice is pro-owner and anti-worker”. That’s a contingent constellation of things, not a necessary combination. Even I could imagine Tories speaking up for workers, in the right situation. But they wouldn’t do so consistently. And it is self-evident that some policies can be pro-business and pro-worker. But here we are talking about a restriction of the right to strike, which, though the thin end of the wedge is aimed at the public sector, that is not where it will stop. This *is* anti-worker, by definition, and the voices we hear are ‘Tory, pro-owner and anti-worker’, and Labour politicians ought not add to that.

            So, that brings me to your question, “Why is it always assumed that pro-owner is anti-worker”? There is no such assumption of *always*. The interests of labour and capital are often aligned, but they are also often in conflict. Unavoidably so, as owners extract profit by the exploitation – in the technical, not moral, sense – of their workers. The instinct of the Labour party must be to err on the side of workers in these conflicts, if for nothing else because pretty much – in such cases – all other voices of influence will be pro-business and (given we are talking about cases of conflict) anti-worker.

    • vincethur

      so you think its ok for a government to be elected on 25% of those eligible to vote and you think its ok for them to make it illegal to strike without 40% of those eligible to vote voting yes. What you’re actually condoning here is the fact that people that don’t vote will be cast as a no vote. In a modern day democracy how is that right ?.
      I sorry , if you can’t see whats wrong with that i can only hope you pack your bag as soon as possible because not only are you no labour voter you obviously are no fan of democracy either.

    • Carole

      “Do you think the typical voter supports the abuses of the HRA? Do you
      think they will support it or back the Tories reform so the ridiculous
      judgements will be a thing of the past whilst still protecting those who
      need protection?”

      First point, most voters think that the HRA is something to do with the EU. It isn’t. Secondly, most voters think the HRA means that judgements are made by foreign courts. They aren’t. The HRA made it possible for judgements to be made in UK courts by British judges. Thirdly, what is an “abuse” of the HRA? Don’t you really mean “judgements of which I disapprove”?

      The law sometimes hands down judgements which are unpopular. That isn’t an abuse of the system. That is justice working impartially.

      • Mark

        That’s exactly the point; the HRA only exists to codify the European Convention on Human Rights into British Statute; the HRA wouldn’t have been necessary without the European Convention. It is this codifying into British Statute that has lead to – quite clear and brazen – abuses of the statute to circumvent and frustrate due process. For example, life term prisoners being able to vote.

        • Carole

          No, that is exactly NOT the point.

          You also seem to be forgetting that it is a client’s lawyer’s job to find ways of defending their client. The law isn’t there to pass popular judgements in a democracy. The law is there to protect everyone.

          If the mob howls for populist judgements and politicians respond in ways that please the mob, we are living in a world of show trials and kangaroo courts.

        • Harry Farmer

          Except the European convention of Human Rights is nothing to do with the EU which is what most people think. In fact it was established completely separately after the second world war to prevent the horrors of that war from ever being repeated and was drafted by a British MP and backed by Churchill. That the press have managed to portray it as a piece of foreign legislation imposed on us from abroad doesn’t change the reality.

    • Dez

      Maybe try polling some commuters to see how they enjoy having their work & travel plans trashed by an unrepresentative minority.

      • Dave Postles

        If I understand correctly, the 60% of the RMT members voted, with 80% in favour of industrial action. Such an action also gives the lie to the Tory proposal to allow employers to bring in agency workers – any agency train drivers out there?

  • ardepy

    The 4th para is not correct >> “As it stands, for a strike to be considered valid it has to be supported by the majority of people balloted.”

  • Christian Wilcox

    A Union has a million members. 200k go on strike to protect rights etc.

    How on earth do you justify withholding the Legal Rights of 200k innocent people who are being stuffed over? Serious question.

    • Ben Gardner

      Don’t have a union with a million members. Try having one union per employer.

      • Christian Wilcox

        Even better, have Localism brought in. Croydon Branch chooses to strike due to BLAH the local issue. No need for Bromley to kick off as well, unless Bromley Branch votes to back Croydon Branch ( in a separate vote, obviously ).

        • Dave Postles

          Secondary picketing is illegal.

          • Christian Wilcox

            Time to take it to The UN as a Human Rights violation then.

            They’re already investigating us for Grave Disability Rights Violations. Why not add to the list?

          • Christian Wilcox

            This whole thing is an attempt at a return to Feudalism. It doesn’t matter who you vote for nothing changes and your rights get smaller and smaller.

            It’s what Hitler did in the 1930’s.

            Take it to The UN. The UN are already investigating us for Human Rights Violations against The Disabled.

            Hitler was the first to shut down Unions, and this lot are trying to do the same thing.

            If you can’t realistically vote Nationally on a big issue, and can’t vote in a Local way either, then it’s obvious you need to appeal to The UN.

      • Andrew Bartlett

        Yup, a multitude of weak, ineffective unions. We’re in the process of fighting the late 19th / early 20th century battles in reverse, giving up everything we have gained and expecting the outcome to be different.

  • NT86

    They’re not scrapping the HRA per se, just replacing it with a British bill of rights.

  • Timmy

    Anyone can breach their contract and withdraw their labour whenever they choose, and there is no right to strike in law.
    What is under discussion is where the line should be drawn regarding legal protection from the employer deciding that that breach of contract can lead to dismissal.

  • Mark Myword

    When a strike is validly called after ballot, the Union is protected in law from being sued for damages by those who have suffered as a result if the strike. This is a substantial privilege not enjoyed by any other section of society. Given that protection, it is reasonable to consider whether the threshold for a ballot to be valid is too low – especially given the antics of the RMT in London. I do not argue in favour of the current Conservative proposals, but that there is a case to be considered. Secondly, when a strike ballot is called there are only three options facing a voter: yes, no or abstain. On the other hand, when a voter is faced with a ballot paper in an election he or she has multiple choices plus abstention. Last week my election ballot had seven candidates listed. Consequently, comparisons of suggested thresholds for strike ballots, with actual figures for elections is not comparing like with like.

    • Andrew Bartlett

      No, we’re not comparing like with like. A strike ballot already needs a majority of the votes cast, a Parliamentary seat only requires a plurality, however small, of votes cast.

      However, re: “I do not argue in favour of the current Conservative proposals, but that there is a case to be considered.” This is what the Labour Party consistently gets wrong. You do not engage with the question *as framed* by the Tories, as asking the question is in itself part of the rhetoric of debate. If you are not in favour of the Tory proposals, you argue against them, and part of that is reframing the question – does people want lower wages, fewer rights, less of a voice at work? These are the inevitable effects of acceding to Tory demands, so we need these smooth talking PR people we mistake for politicians to make *that case*. What you do not do is consider the most regressive union laws in Europe, changes which would take generations to reverse, as if it is some kind of academic question.

      • Mark Myword

        If you do not engage with the question you will lose. And you will be helped by the RMT whose members have just balloted for a national rail strike. It will be legal (and would be legal under the proposals) but the Government will use it to its advantage – and all of your sound and fury will be as nought.

        • Andrew Bartlett

          You engage in the issue, but not the question as framed by the Tories. When the Tories are asked about the justice of ZHC, they don’t talk ‘justice’, they talk ‘flexibility’, when asked about structural unemployment, they talk about individual character. If we have to learn anything from the Tories, it isn’t to borrow the content of their politics, but we can learn from the way they control grounds upon which issues are debated. Helped obviously by the press, but still, if you don’t try to chose the ground on which you will fight you will lose.

          As for losing, I don’t know how we’d do any worse than by following your advice, which as far as I can see appears to be ‘concede’.

          • Mark Myword

            No, not concede – negotiate. The government want to move away from a simple majority on a low turnout. Instead of accepting that there might be a solution, you, the unions, and I expect the party wish to fight. You will lose.

          • Andrew Bartlett

            So… the government want to move away from a simple majority on a low turnout, and you say, yes, let’s move away from this. And you say, yes, I concede that there is a problem, so yes, let’s move away from this.

            In what way are you going to win anything? What concessions do you expect to win, *unless* you make this a debate about the fundamental right to organise at work, the right to strike, and the virtues of labour unions. I fail to see how you will extract anything like a concession from a Tory majority government unless you are willing to put up some kind of fight, and move the fight onto a battlefield that favours organised labour.

          • Andrew Bartlett

            And, hang on, ‘solution’? To what problem? The problem for the Tories is workers’ rights full stop – see changes to industrial tribunals, unfair dismissal, legal aid, workfare etc. – and you’re conceding to them the power to define the problem.

          • Ian

            Andrew, do you believe that strikes in essential public services like schools, the NHS, the fire service and the tube actually helps the Labour movement or gains it any sympathy? I can assure you that it doesn’t. The Evil Tories are actually doing Labour a favour here.

          • Andrew Bartlett

            That’s irrelevant, surely, on what should be the legality of those strikes – what sort of rights and restrictions workers should have written into law?

            “Workers Rights! For Groups That Evoke Sufficient Public Sympathy!”

            Quite who ought be allowed to strike under the public support requirements?

          • Ian

            The Labour Party (and you) need to think this through carefully before adopting a knee-jerk opposition. We are talking about public sector strikes here – strikes of workers who in almost all cases have better terms and conditions than many people in the private sector who pay their wages. By striking these workers won’t hurt the monolithic public services they work for – they will hurt patients on waiting lists, parents with children at school and citizens needing emergency aid. They will also be hurting the Labour Party.

          • Andrew Bartlett

            “in almost all cases have better terms and conditions than many people in the private sector”

            Yes, and when they lose an important piece of their bargaining power, watch those terms and conditions erode. Such changes will ripple through the labour market, damaging all workers.

            “people in the private sector who pay their wages”

            I know this is the popular wisdom, but this nonsense needs putting to bed. Let’s say I’m a binman. I work from the council. My wages are paid for by the taxpayer, and is only a desirable by product of private business. Then my work is outsourced, and I work in the private sector. Has the work I am doing changed? Has the productive role I occupy in the economy changed? No, and no, though some spiv might well be siphoning off what once was wages paid into the local economy. Or let’s say I’m a miner. I’m working in the privately owned mining industry, so I’m the one paying for all those teachers. But the mining industry is nationalised and ‘boom!’ I’m a drain on the purse on the wealth produced by the private sector. See all them posties? Once they were entitled public employees. And then, overnight, ‘bam!’ Cable gives the business away to private interests and ‘boom!’ they’re in the private sector.

            We could just as well say that the people in the public sector pay the wages of those in the private sector. It’d make just as much sense.

            The wealth of our economy is not produced by the private sector and spent by the public. It is produced by everyone in the economy, by virtue of their economic activity.

            Now, I know this is a myth that has been hammered home so much that people believe it to be true. Doesn’t mean that it is.

            But, now, I agree with this – “By striking these workers won’t hurt the monolithic public services they work for – they will hurt patients on waiting lists, parents with children at school and citizens needing emergency aid.” – to some extent. But the same would be true if we privatised the NHS, the schools, and the fire-service, at least in terms of the effects on the people who use/need the service. So what to do? What sort of collective action can workers in these industries take? What sort of action would be effective? What sort of action can (or ought) be legal? If all you are going to do is restrict the right to strike you’ve pretty much cutting the floor out from under all workers in the UK.

          • Ian


            I think we both know that however much noise the Labour Party make about this proposal the chances of them reversing it once they get back into government are about as likely as, well, about as likely as them inventing a time machine and going back to reverse any of the previous “anti-union” legislation they have opposed since 1979, but failed to reverse in the 13 years under Blair and Brown.

            Elsewhere in this thread you are opposing cynical political posturing, but here you support it. Isn’t that hypocritical?

          • Andrew Bartlett

            “I think we both know that however much noise the Labour Party make about this proposal the chances of them reversing it once they get back into government are about as likely as, well, about as likely as them inventing a time machine and going back to reverse any of the previous “anti-union” legislation they have opposed since 1979, but failed to reverse in the 13 years under Blair and Brown.”

            Well, exactly, which is why this Tory government is so dangerous. It has a programme of mopping up the remains of the welfare state and workers’ rights, and we have bugger all chance of getting them back once they’re gone.

            I don’t know what you mean by ‘cynical political posturing’. Sometimes it is right to fight a battle even if you know you’ll likely lose – if that weren’t the case we’d never make any progress, and we’d never have politicians and organisations willing to put forward arguments.

          • Ian

            What I mean by ‘cynical political posturing’ is that we know that these proposals will make the life of a future Labour government a great deal easier as it will be harder for Unions to hold them to ransom. So really we’d like them to make it onto the statute book, but we’ll oppose them now as we want to look good to the Unions.

          • Andrew Bartlett

            Ah, yes, I get you now. And yes, it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the very thinking going on right now.

          • Andrew Bartlett

            Ah, are you misreading this – “Now, I know this is a myth that has been hammered home so much that people believe it to be true. Doesn’t mean that it is.” – as if I am saying that what *I* am saying is a myth, an untruth, that I want to hammer home to people?

            I am saying that it is a widely held myth that the private sector creates wealth that the public sector consumes that wealth. That it is widely believed doesn’t mean that it is true – indeed, it is self-evidently false. Both the public sector and the private sector creates wealth.

          • Ian

            No, no, I didn’t mean you personally – see below.

          • Harry Farmer

            Perhaps if Labour had sought to reverse some of the anti-union laws during their 13 years in power they would be in a better position today. Look at how the Tories operate. They spent the last 5 years in a coalition and still tried to push through as much right wing legislation as possible. They now have a tiny majority but are pushing ahead with radical changes to weaken the unions and the organised left even more. If we simply accept that whatever the tories do in government is there to stay then we let the centre ground be pushed ever rightwards thus making our own prospects worse and worse.

          • Dave Postles

            In other words, essential services on which we all rely – for the common good – which should be treated with proper regard. In most cases, they mitigate their action to prevent disruption – as the nurses over Hunt’s refusal to allow them their recommended increase. In most cases, industrial action is the very last resort and unions have acted responsibly for many years now. The issue in the private sector is that there is no union penetration. That’s why Next can so easily remove the £20 allowance for Sunday workers – because the union representation is so weak. Decades ago, Sunday working would have been rewarded with double-time overtime. This appeasement of private sector employers has caused the erosion of workers’ rights.

          • MonkeyBot5000

            We are talking about public sector strikes here – strikes of workers who in almost all cases have better terms and conditions than many people in the private sector who pay their wages

            Why have they got better terms and conditions? Because they had unions.

  • vincethur

    Reading some of the comments on here I’ve just had to check I’ve gone onto labourlist and not conservative home. I rejoined the Labour Party this morning and I’m seriously wondering whether I’ve done the right thing.

    • EnosBurrows

      Many of the posters are Tories out for fun or at least some discussion.

    • Ian

      If you paid by credit card online you can normally get a chargeback during the 10 day cooling off period.

      • vincethur

        I think I’ll take enosburrows advice. I need to understand people like you aren’t labour members and live such a sad life they have nothing better to do than troll around on websites.

        • Ian

          Understand what you like and call me what names you like but if you’re threatening to take your bat home after only a few hours then maybe you don’t have the stomach for the tough fight ahead.

          I was posting here long before the election warning that Ed and others were being poorly briefed and advised and that Labour needed to concentrate on clarifying policy and not appearing too left-wing. This is exactly what all our prospective leaders and “big beasts**” are saying now. Where were you?

          ** Except, of course, for Mr Kinnock who is still blaming the electorate.

          • vincethur

            Im not threatneing to take my bat home at all. Im just agahst that people like you, that obviously are so against everything it supposedly stands for are members.
            As for left and right wing politics within the party, ive never been a lover of either. But when somebody defends us having the most draconian trade union laws in the westen world worsened further. I have to ask the question what is the point of the Labour party, if it no longers stands up for workers (the clue is in the name).
            Defending workers rights and defending the right to strike is not being left wing , it is defending a basic right that is afforded to workers across western europe. I dont actually recall anyone either bringing it up during the election.
            As for where was i, been there seen it done it, i left the party over the iraq war but before then i knoocked on doors for both left and right wing labour parties. One thing i will say though, is not once did i hear anyone within the party tell me standing up for workers rights to strike was not worth fighting for and that even goes for Tony Blair.

          • Ian

            So I’m too in synch with the opinions of the electorate to be a Labour Party member? Yes, that illustrates perfectly what is wrong with Labour and why we lost the election.

          • vincethur

            If trade union legislation was being brought up on the doorstep as a major issue you may have a point. It wasnt, so how the hell are you concluding standing up for workers rights is whats wrong with the Labour party.
            If thats the case, Labour should also give up campaiging for the end to zhc, an improvement in the minimum wage, the end of the bedroom tax. In fact anything the party believes in, what you really want is the Labour party to win at all costs, ie giving up everything the Labour party stands for.
            And im not still sure how you can class fighting for workers to have the right to strike too left wing. I dont think thats the reason Mr Sugar left the labour party was it.

          • Ian

            There is a balance which needs to be struck between the rights of workers and the rights of taxpayers, parents, the ill and infirm and those in peril. I believe that it is important for Labour to be on the correct side of that balance.

            Despite what you say I never said or implied that standing up for workers rights is what’s wrong with Labour – that would be ridiculous. It is the balance point I disagree with you on, not the principle.

          • vincethur

            Oh right, so you agree with worsening workers rights even more, despite us having the most restrictive in westen europe already.
            Just how low do you think we need to go before we have the balance right.
            How many people brought up workers having too much power during the election, in fact, how many of the pro Tory newspapers even brought it up. Its a non issue with the public, the days of people belieiving unions having too much power have gone. The only ones that still believe unions are that powerful are the tory party, a few rabid right wingers and obviously now a few in the labour party.

        • MonkeyBot5000

          Wow! You’ve been here for a day and you’re already describing anyone you don’t like as a “troll”.

          • vincethur

            When somebodies view goes so far against what their party is supposed to stand for , i can only assume that the person has actually has an alterior motive. It would appear in this instance , this is not the case but im still aghast at why somebody that is obviously be so anti union would be a member of a party that was created by the unions.

    • MonkeyBot5000

      You did the wrong thing. You joined a political party. Everything you say or do will now have to match what your party thinks.

      Enjoy it while you can.

  • Ian

    Do we really believe that schools, the fire service and the NHS are Britain’s “worst bosses”?


    • Ian

      Come on people, it’s been over three hours – someone must have evidence to back Frances O’Grady up!!

      Incidentally if we claim that these great state run institutions are Britain’s worst bosses aren’t we inviting the Evil Tories to privatise them on the premise that things can only get better for the workers?

      • Andrew Bartlett

        Given you are demanding a reply, I’ll post what has been ‘pending’ for the past three hours – presumably as the original version included weblinks. So in response to your original question, I wrote:

        Perhaps not, but do we really believe that Britain’s worst bosses are going to get any better if we emasculate the last strongholds of organised labour – as the erosion of the terms and conditions of public sector workers will only further depress those of the private sector. Do we really think that, once these changes are in place in these services, they won’t be applied – as a matter of ‘justice’ and ‘fairness’ – to unions in the private sector?

        But back to your original question, and reframe it slightly, what are conditions in these services actually like. Perhaps we should take seriously the descriptions of the working conditions in A&E such as that offered by a nurse who served in Iraq. [offending link removed]

        Or, in education, perhaps we should take seriously the concerns that the right-wing love to trumpet when they wish to damn the education system; that there is poor discipline in schools, a rise in assaults on teachers, that teachers should be ‘freed’ from centralised bureaucracy, etc., and use that to knock down the suggestions made *at the very same time* that the high rates of stress-related illness among teachers are due to weak character or ‘malingering’, rather than the conditions of their workplace.

        Or, in the Fire Service, perhaps we should consider the ways in which the pension rights of firefighters are being systematically eroded – with firefighters facing the sack for simply getting old in a physically demanding (and damaging) job. And in the physical and mental injuries that occur as result of running into burning buildings, cutting bloody bodies out of cars, etc.

        So, maybe we’re not dealing with Britain’s very worst *bosses*, but we are speaking about people whose work place injures them, leaves them sick, and bad boss or not, whose rights at work are being eroded. Whatever these professions have kept hold of that is good, they have done so through the fact that their labour is organised.

        • Ian

          I’m not debating whether any of these are pleasant jobs. My point is that by claiming that schools, the fire service and the NHS are Britain’s “worst bosses” Frances O’Grady is not making an argument which is believable to the public at large. It’s such a crazy thing to say that it negates the argument. (Rather like some of the wild accusations Labour made at the GE – people just don’t believe the spin anymore).

  • Mark

    Those citing the fact that the Conservatives only won 37% of the vote in their arguments against the proposed 40% rule really are distorting the facts. The 37% was won in a multi-way ballot, not a two way vote. In some seats, notably Boris Johnson’s and David Cameron’s, there were upwards of 10 candidates.

    A strike ballot is a two-way vote. It should be, if the unions argument is coherent enough and appeals to enough members, relatively straight forward to a:) ensure 50% of the membership come out to vote, and b:) ensure that 40% of the total membership support the ballot.

    What it will ensure is that those people who don’t agree with the ballot, but are scared to cross the shop stewards and so don’t vote at all. Take the recent NUT ballot; only 40% of members voted, how is this possible? This was lauded as an ‘overwhelming’ vote of support for strike action, but 6 out of 10 members didn’t even cast a vote…

    Moreover, and this is the thrust of the whole discussion, is it fair that millions of parents up and down the country will have to be disrupted, either using annual leave entitlement or incurring huge childcare costs, and business lose 10s of thousands of hours productivity because less than 4 in 10 teachers voted for strike action?

    • Andrew Bartlett

      I’m pretty sure that when after these changes 4 in 10 teachers vote for strike action, you’ll still say it isn’t ‘fair’.

      I know you think it isn’t a fair comparison, but if we’re talking about mandates, it cannot be avoided that less that 3 in 10 of registered voters (and that doesn’t count the significant number of people who are unregistered but who would otherwise be eligible to vote) voted for the MPs that make up this government, which, if the party maintains its discipline, can govern without any real restrictions. More so once the HRA is scrapped. This gives them a mandate to impose new legal restrictions on organised labour, which is a diminution of the working rights of millions of people, all by appealing to the ‘undemocratic’ nature of a majority vote.

      As a union member, I have, on occasion, not voted when a strike ballot is called as I have been genuinely undecided. Not voting is not a vote against the strike. As a union member, I am making an agreement to bind myself to my fellow union members, and if the majority of votes cast are for a strike, then I am on strike. I have – and this might surprise people – even voted against industrial action. But again, as a union member, I am binding myself to the collective interests and actions of the other members of the union, and when a strike is called – democratically – then I will strike.

  • David Pickering

    If you can’t get a majority of your members to back strike action, you don’t have a mandate to strike. Why is that do difficult to understand?

  • A bit of common sense

    Stopping the ability to strike is a great idea that will lead to improved working conditions and regular wage increases… Sorry, went a bit NuLabour Tory for a moment!

    In Germany, the postal workers and freight train drivers are on strike at this moment. I haven’t noticed Germany failing like the UK and their working conditions and wages are far better than in the UK. Strong and sensible unions working on behalf of their members are important to share the benefits of the economy currently being annexed by the super rich.

    Question is, if you get a Blairite as leader, would they repeal any Tory legislation? Tony Fail was very reluctant to do so.

  • ClearBell

    Entirely predictable proposals. We have very few strikes in this country, and they are generally well managed, supported and good humoured. It is not paranoia to see the Tories promoting measure after measure to silence trade union members and prevent any effective representation in the workplace. The threat of industrial action is important but it is not the only aspect of union activity the Tories are bound to target and they are aiming for the US or Australian model. Populist and stupid legislation is the name of the game – the Tories are well aware that we can all hold completely contrary views like being pro-trade union but anti-strike – of course, this is trying to change a trade union’s purpose in the workplace as comforters rather than activists.

    Fact is everyone who is employed in a firm with union recognition benefits from workplace representation, negotiation and collective bargaining. Organising a ballot of any kind is very difficult for entirely practical reasons. You try and do it. Members may simply not take part because they are pathetic, a lot anticipate others in the group doing it “for them” in some way, they can’t read very well, forget…Yes, they might be conflicted but in my experience no union member (or those outside of membership) have ever said “No thank you, I don’t want that pay increase, improved H&S, settlement in relation to t&cs” or whatever the union reps have managed to gain as a result. After the stoppages I have been involved with union membership has gone up – NOT down. What does that tell you?


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