Socialist Worker

As anti-union Carr Review reports - unions’ ‘extreme’ action is not nearly hard enough

Annette Mackin argues the Tories’ Carr Review of anti-trade union laws shows bosses will only go further on the offensive if we don’t put up a fight

Issue No. 2426

Workers at Grangemouth petrochemicals plant protest against bosses’ attacks

Workers at Grangemouth petrochemicals plant protest against bosses’ attacks (Pic: Josh Brown)

The Tories want to shackle working class organisation—and to do this they plan to further clampdown on trade unions. 

The Carr Review into “intimidation” by trade unionists was published last week. It was set up in the wake of the dispute at the Grangemouth 

petrochemicals plant last year and overseen by anti-union lawyer Bruce Carr QC (see below).

Grangemouth billionaire boss Jim Ratcliffe threatened to shut the plant and sack workers if they did not sign up to new worse contracts. 

One response by the workers’ Unite union was to organise a small protest at the home of a director. 

The right wing press were outraged at such “extreme tactics”. 

Their bile was directed particularly at “leverage” campaigns that target the offices, partners, supporters and suppliers of a firm. 

But Unite didn’t even organise a leverage campaign around Grangemouth. 

The Tories took the opportunity to draft in Carr to review nine disputes where bosses and scabs claim to have been intimidated by striking or protesting workers. 

The government’s “keen interest in the resilience of critical industrial infrastructure” is a transparent attempt to further weaken trade unions. 

The Tories wanted to make sure their anti-union laws were “fit for the 21st century”. 

The nine disputes covered include those by firefighters, cleaners, construction workers, oil workers, London Underground staff and bus drivers. 

“Extreme tactics” include workers calling people scabs and pickets blocking vehicles entering workplaces. 


Carr identified eight “themes” including wildcat strikes, using leaflets and social media and calling protests outside businesses owned by the firm in a dispute. 

He made no recommendations for legal change but the review contains lengthy suggestions by bosses on how to further crack down on workers. 

The bosses’ CBI lobby group wants to tighten the law to force unions to denounce wildcat walkouts within 24 hours. 

Outsourcing giant ISS recommends that libel and slander legislation is clearer so that workers’ criticism of them can be criminalised. 

Bosses also want the Code of Practice on Picketing strengthened or made legally binding. 

The code recommends no more than six people on a picket line—employers want to make this law. 

Yet the fact the Carr review makes no recommendations shows how effective the current anti-union laws are at stopping strikes. 

This is the real scandal. 

Unions are pulling out of strikes from just the fear of legal action. This is what the UCU union recently did at Lambeth College in south London. 

Unions should at the very least be challenging court injunctions, not caving in to them. 

At Grangemouth bosses went on the offensive to try and trash the union. But instead of standing up to them Unite folded without even calling a strike. 

The lesson for workers is to strike back against the attacks. Without a fight bosses will go ahead and carry out their cuts regardless. 

Their laws can be broken

Construction worker on unofficial action

Construction worker on unofficial action (Pic: Socialist Worker)

The extent to which the law already acts against workers is clear from the review. 

It is critical of “wildcat” action taken by workers—striking without a ballot and voting by a show of hands. 

This was previously a democratic practice of trade unions, before Tory anti-union legislation smashed up vital parts of workers’ ability to organise. 

But workers now face the threat of losing their jobs by not going through the process of a ballot. 

Any trade unionist involved in a dispute has first hand experience of how laws and bureaucracy stifle action. 

The law exists to protect the property of the rich and the police and the judiciary enforce it. 

It only benefits the bosses.

Yet unofficial strikes have been seen in recent years in Royal Mail and on construction sites against management bullying and attacks on conditions. 

Although illegal, no workers were jailed or lost their jobs from taking mass unofficial action. The opposite is in fact true and the action has often led to workers winning their demands.

What about bosses’ tactics?

Extreme and intimidatory tactics certainly have been used in strikes—but bosses and scabs don’t want you to know they used them. 

The London Fire Brigade’s (LFB) contribution to the Carr Review alleged intimidation by firefighters during a strike in 2010. 

The LFB was at the forefront of cutting jobs and fire stations that led to the dispute.

It said that stand-in crews were jeered and private security guards abused by strikers. 

Yet in making the allegations they revealed that the firefighters’ FBU union had lodged a complaint of intimidation against them. 

This included video evidence of a worker recounting an incident where a picket was severely injured by a scab. The scab allegedly drove a car at such speed at a striking firefighter outside a station that he hit the front window, smashing it, and was later airlifted to hospital.

The review also neglected to mention the extreme tactic of blacklisting workers by construction bosses.

Just who is Bruce Carr?

Bruce Carr has a long history of using the law to undermine trade union democracy. He’s the lawyer who got an overwhelming vote for strikes by British Airways workers overturned on a technicality. The review is a “limited” version of his initial project after unions refused to cooperate.

Tory hypocrisy over low votes

The Tories are threatening to introduce minimum thresholds for ballots, so that a low turnout would make a strike unlawful. Tory cabinet secretary Francis Maude said last week that pressure to change the law is growing due to  “weak and outdated mandates”. 

But just 25 percent of those eligible to vote backed the Tory party in the 2010 general election.

Blame the agitators

Bosses complained that union protests were attended by people not directly involved. Transport for London submitted one example of a London bus workers’ protest joined by “protesters from various groups including the Socialist Workers Party”. 

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