The right of trade unions to take action to defend their members is under constant attack from the Labour government and the neoliberal agenda of the European Union (EU).
The case of the airline pilots’ union Balpa is instructive. Balpa had opposed a British Airways plan to set up OpenSkies – a new airline subsidiary – using a workforce separate from its mainline operations. The union thought this could act as a “Trojan horse” to drive down conditions and divide the workforce.
An overwhelming majority of the 3,200 pilots balloted voted to strike over the plans.
But BA bosses claimed that, even if the strike was lawful under British law – which means surmounting all the anti-union hurdles – the union could still be stopped or sued for every penny the company would lose during a strike.
This is because, on the back of a number of European cases (see page 8), the strike would breach the “right” of business to provide services where it wants. Balpa had challenged this in the high court, but withdrew after the prospect of a long drawnout court case.
There is now a serious threat of other employers trying to use EU law to prevent legal strikes and to sue unions for compensation.