Rights at work
Make 6 June union D-Day
MONDAY 6 June is one of the most important days for trade unionists for years. It is the day the final, and most significant, part of the new employment law comes into force. It gives workers the right to union recognition whatever their bosses say. The new laws are full of restrictions and loopholes. New Labour watered down the legislation to favour the bosses. But it didn't dare abandon the laws altogether.
Already some parts of the law are in force, such as those giving individual workers the right to be represented in disciplinary cases. But the centrepiece is the right to full union recognition, with negotiating rights on pay and conditions at work.
This opens up a major opportunity to win, win back, and extend union rights everywhere-if we organise.
WHAT THE NEW LAW SAYS: ANY workplace with 21 workers or more has the legal right to press for union recognition. The bosses can voluntarily accept such a recognition claim. If they don't there are two routes to compel them.
- Automatic recognition: A union has to show it has a membership of 50 percent plus one in a workplace. If it can the boss has to recognise the union.
- Recognition by ballot: A union has to show it has at least 10 percent membership in a workplace. That is enough to trigger a ballot in which the union has to win the support of 40 percent of the entire workforce to force recognition.
There are important discussions in most cases about what constitutes the "bargaining unit"-the group of workers who are involved in any ballot. Employers may use all sorts of dirty tricks to try to undermine attempts to get recognition, such as including other sections, plants or offices in with yours. A new government body called the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) will make decisions on such matters.
The government has bent to the employers by stuffing this committee with former personnel managers of big companies. But the CAC's decisions can be challenged. To apply for union recognition a trade union must give a written request to management. The bosses cannot simply sit on this, but must reply within ten working days.
Leaders of some unions, like the engineers' and electricians' AEEU, are using the legislation to strike sweetheart deals with the employers. But despite the flaws, the law means workers can organise to win recognition.
WHAT IS HAPPENING ALREADY: BY FAR the quickest and easiest route to recognition is to have 50 percent plus one membership. If you think you can get this, go for it rather than any other method. This is what the National Union of Journalists is doing in a swathe of workplaces where it has been derecognised, but maintained union membership, in the last decade and a half.
So at the Independent, Independent on Sunday and a series of major magazines 50 percent plus one claims are going in on 6 June itself. The threat of the new law has even moved some of the country's most notorious anti-union employers. DC Thompson, the Dundee-based publisher of comics such as the Beano and Dandy, has agreed to a recognition ballot for its 2,700 workers. Other cases where moves towards possible union recognition have already begun are equally significant.
The smashing of trade unionism in the docks was one of the great defeats of the Tory years during the 1989 docks strike. Now Forth Ports, the owner of the country's biggest port, Tilbury on the Thames, has signed a recognition deal with the TGWU union. The deal initially applies to only part of the giant docks complex but is a real breakthrough. "It's very good news," TGWU regional organiser Graham Murfet told Socialist Worker.
The TGWU is also planning to build on the recent success of Pricecheck supermarket workers in London in winning union rights to push a recruitment and recognition drive in shops and restaurants in major cities. And unions such as the Communication Workers Union plan to push for recruitment and recognition in call centres.
All such official moves are excellent and should be encouraged. But ordinary activists should seize the initiative too.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
- Unionised workplaces: You may face a hostile management who want to stop you building a union, so be inventive!
- There is one golden rule. Never, ever, trust management however smarmy they pretend to be. Do not put you name on anything and never tell them what you are doing.
- Find out which union to join. Phone the TUC on 020 7636 4030.
- Join yourself, ask for leaflets and recruitment forms, and ask if others in your workplace are already members.
- Ask people to join and get supporters to hand out leaflets outside the workplace. Inside, be creative. There are private places everyone uses. Leave leaflets there!
- Call a meeting off work premises, in a local community centre or pub, and get a union official to speak.
- Unionised workplaces: Organise to mark 6 June. D-Day is Union Day.
Launch a week of local campaigning to highlight the new law. Target local non-unionised workplaces. Distribute leaflets outside. Offer workers support in organising. Set up stalls and leaflet local transport. Make a splash. Let unorganised workers in the area, and their bosses, know that the unions are back.