Socialist Worker

Boris Johnson leads clamour for new anti-union laws

by Matthew Cookson
Issue No. 2222

Big business and London mayor Boris Johnson this week demanded that the government introduce even tighter restrictions on workers’ right to strike.

Johnson was fuming after the strike for jobs and safety on London Underground severely hit the capital.

He used his speech at the Tory Party conference to call for new anti-union laws, which would mean that a strike could only be called if 50 percent of the membership participate in a ballot.

At present, there is no threshold on what percentage of members have to vote before a strike can be called, as long as a majority of those who vote are in favour of it.

Johnson sees the strikes on the tube as an indication of what is to come as the unions resist the Tories’ attacks.

Tory governments in the 1980s introduced seven rounds of anti-union laws—such as the need to ballot before action can be taken—to reduce the power of the trade unions.

New Labour kept these laws in place.

The right to strike legally has been reduced in the last two years by bosses taking to the courts to exploit technicalities in ballots to halt action after democratic votes.

Despite this, the Tories and the bosses want to curtail workers’ rights even further.

The bosses’ CBI organisation has called for even higher thresholds in strike ballots than Boris Johnson.

It also wants to be able to hire agency temps to break strikes and to increase the notice period for industrial action from seven to 14 days after the ballot takes place.

The Tories and the bosses fear that though strike levels are currently low, this could quickly change as the cuts take affect.

A cabinet minister told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that the government should be prepared to introduce new laws to confront the unions, saying, “We have to be able to rule this country”.

Many workers see the hypocrisy of Johnson’s demands.

“If our vote for strikes wasn’t legitimate, then was Johnson’s election for mayor?” asked Gary Baxter, a TSSA union health and safety rep on London Underground, who struck on Monday.

“There was a turnout of less than 50 percent in the 2008 London mayoral elections. Will the same rules be applied to all other elections and votes?”

The anti-union laws should be scrapped not extended. The unions must forcefully challenge any new plans.

Lobby parliament against the anti-union laws and to support MP John McDonnell’s private members’ bill, 12.30pm, Wednesday 13 October opposite House of Commons, London

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Tue 5 Oct 2010, 17:44 BST
Issue No. 2222
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