Socialist Worker

If we fight the anti-union laws we can win

Issue No. 2202

The British working class has repeatedly faced attempts to smother effective trade union action—and we seeing another now.

The British Airways verdict is one in a long tradition of class law.

In 1834 the courts sentenced six Tolpuddle agricultural labourers to transportation to a penal colony in Australia for organising a union.

In 1872 five workers were jailed for a year after a pay strike at the Beckton gas works in east London.

In 1901 the Taff Vale judgement meant bosses could sue unions for damages during strikes—and destroy them. In the 1950s the government used regulations left from the Second World War to arrest striking dock workers.

And in the 1970s the Tories jailed five dockers for leading strikes.

In every one of these cases it took action—illegal action—to make the laws unworkable and to defend the right to organise.

And in every one of these cases when action swept across the class it smashed the bosses’ rigged law.

The Tories and the courts will not retreat from anti-union laws unless they face mass revolt.

Who will now join the roll call of those who defied the law and saved the trade union movement?

It’s welcome that a series of trade union leaders have pointed out the significance of this week’s ruling.

It will be much more welcome when one of them says to a group workers, “I know it’s illegal, but I want you to come out anyway—and I pledge that I will mobilise our union in your support and call on other workers to do the same.”

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What We Think
Tue 18 May 2010, 17:44 BST
Issue No. 2202
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