A high court ruling today underlined that bosses can have any strike they want declared illegal. Workers’ democratic votes mean nothing: there is no right to strike.
Lord Justice McCombe ruled in favour of British Airways bosses and deemed a planned strike by cabin crew illegal.
He ruled that the strike was illegal because the Unite union “may well have failed” to adequately inform its members of the ballot result.
“I am unable to say it is sufficiently clear that the union took the steps required by law at the time they were required,” he said.
The judge found no evidence of any wrongdoing on the union’s part—but he still stopped the strike. He added that the “balance of convenience” meant he would rule the strike illegal.
The fact that workers had already held seven days of strikes without challenge from the bosses meant nothing.
It is perfectly legal to sack workers, or cut their pay or tear up their conditions. But if workers try to fight back there is such a thicket of laws that there will always be some technical infringement that means a judge can step in and say the action is illegal.
BA cabin crew voted overwhelmingly for strikes in a ballot in February. More than 80 percent backed strikes on a turnout of just under 80 percent—far more support than any MP gathered on 6 May.
The Unite union posted the full results on its website: “80.7 percent of all those who returned their ballot forms voted yes to industrial action on a 78.7 percent turnout. 7,482 of crew members balloted voted yes with 1,789 crew voting no; 11,691 ballot papers were issued.”
John Hendy QC, in court on behalf of the union, pointed out that BA could not find one worker who did not know the result of the ballot. That was irrelevant.
Bosses also claimed that the union’s notice of the result had not mentioned 11 spoilt papers—as if that mattered.
There is no question of the results of the ballot being inaccurate. And given the scale of media coverage of the dispute, no one can realistically say that any worker would not have been aware of the result.
The truth is BA boss Willie Walsh was scared of the strikes this time. So he got his lawyers to break them in the courts.
Today’s ruling is a disgrace. It says to Britain’s bosses—if you’re faced with a strike, you can find the flimsiest reason to stop it and the courts will back you up.
It follows a number of high profile rulings that have stopped unions taking legal strike action. This week strikes at Johnston press have also been declared illegal.
The conclusion is clear. The union movement has to fight for the right to strike or it will be powerless.
The Tories and the bosses are preparing a huge assault on working class people and they want to smash union organisation to undermine workers’ ability to fight them. The anti-union rulings that took place under Labour will now be imposed with new relish under the Tories.
It's no good waiting for years to see if a new government will change the law. In 13 years Labour did nothing to weaken the laws.
The way to defend workers’ rights is to defy the law and strike unofficially. Workers have taken “illegal” action—including at Lindsey Oil Refinery and Shell—and they have won. The law has to be made unworkable.
And anyone who does fight in this way has to get the backing of the whole movement.
Workers have the power to beat the bosses—they have to use it.