Bosses took the RMT rail union to court last week and stopped its planned Network Rail strike.
The growing reality for the trade union movement is that workers can vote in elections, but not to go on strike.
The high court decision to grant an injunction to the bosses is the latest assault on the right to strike.
“This judgment is an attack on the labour movement and twists anti-union laws further in favour of the bosses,” said Bob Crow, RMT general secretary.
“Workers fighting for a safe railway have had the whole weight of the law thrown against them.”
Bosses are increasingly using the law to challenge strike ballots. Injunctions at Royal Mail, British Airways, Metrobus, London Underground and other companies have forced important strikes to be called off.
Unions are forced to jump through hoop after hoop when balloting, giving bosses the opportunity to block almost any strike they choose.
Unions must provide information including job titles, grades, departments and work locations for balloted members. But there is no burden on the employer to cooperate with the union.
One of the elements in the case against the RMT was the fact that workers at the East Usk signal box in Wales, which was burnt out by a recent fire, were balloted. The RMT knew there was a fire—but not that the box was never to be reopened.
“The union was under the impression that staff had been moved temporarily,” said Steve Richards, Newport RMT branch secretary.
“Now we’re told that Network Rail does not intend to rebuild it. How are we supposed to know the company’s future intentions?
“When we were in dispute in Wales we were told it was a local issue and other people couldn’t be balloted. At the same time managers were brought from across Britain to scab.”
Network Rail accused the RMT of balloting 11 signal boxes that do not exist, out of hundreds. It also said that more union members were balloted than there were employees in 67 locations, and that 26 workplaces were missed out of the ballot.
Media reports claimed that this meant that some union members didn’t get to vote—but this is a distortion.
“We’re balloted as individuals at home, not as signal boxes,” said Andy, a signal worker in Sheffield. “So it’s weird how that can be used in the court.
“Even management don’t get everything right at their end. For example, they recently posted a staff survey form to a signaller in Doncaster who had been sacked months earlier.”
The unjust anti-union laws should be abolished. And unless they are
challenged, unions will find it increasingly difficult to meet the requirements to hold a legal ballot.
The RMT is now planning to reballot all signal and maintenance members at Network Rail for strike action. The TSSA union is to do the same.
But the potential for supposed “irregularities” in the ballot, and subsequent injunctions, remains.
“Bureaucracy, not democracy, was the winner in court last week,” says Steve.
“We can’t depend on the Labour Party. We will have to look to workers themselves to change things—this was how it was at the beginning of the union movement. We have a massive struggle ahead of us.”