Socialist Worker

How can we fight under new strike laws?

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2562

Scottish college lecturers had a strategy to win in their recent strike

Scottish college lecturers had a winning strategy in their recent strike (Pic: Duncan Brown)


Offshore workers in the Unite union are the latest to have their legal right to strike blocked by the Trade Union Act.

Unions with workers in the Offshore Contractors Agreement, of which Unite is the largest, balloted for action over pay. They voted to strike by a majority.

But they did not reach the ballot threshold that dictates that 50 percent of all those eligible to vote take part.

Out of ten Unite union ballots across different firms in the agreement only one cleared the 50 percent turnout threshold.

Yet nine out of ten voted by a majority to strike.

London Underground workers in the RMT union last month held a network-wide ballot to defend victimised workers at one station.

Threshold

They delivered an 80 percent vote for strikes. Yet the vote didn’t meet the 50 percent threshold.

Nor did it meet the further threshold imposed on transport and other workers that 40 percent of all members must vote for a strike for it to be legal.

The offshore workers and London Tube workers join a growing band of trade unionists who’ve had action curbed by the draconian legislation.

Some 70,000 council workers in Scotland fell foul of the Tory law last month too.

The thresholds are unjust and we need to defy the act and fight to overturn it.

But it is also important to think how we can organise to win as many ballots as possible. It is crucial to have a serious campaign in which as many of the members as possible participate.

Many workers will not realise that if they don’t vote the strike will be off. So it has to be explained to them clearly and repeatedly.

National action is not impossible. Royal Mail workers have voted three times for national action in the last ten years by margins well in excess of the thresholds.

Royal Mail ballots for National strikes

  • 2007: Yes 66,064 (77 percent), No 19,199, turnout of 67 percent
  • 2009: Yes 61,623 (76 percent), No 19,207, turnout of 66 percent
  • 2013: Yes 56,339 (78 percent), No 15,623, turnout of 63 percent

This is because a high level of strikes in the past, many of them unofficial, has created a strong network of reps and an engaged workforce.

The CWU union is preparing for a strike ballot over pensions. It’s good that it is holding a series of canteen and gate meetings at scores of offices across Britain that can boost these networks.

Membership

Some union leaders say you can’t even think about a national strike without first increasing “density” of membership.

But workers join unions when they fight back.

Further education lecturers in Scotland have held strikes over the last 16 months.

Politicising their dispute, targeting the politicians responsible and having a militant programme of action was a crucial element of the walkouts.

Yet their EIS Fela union leadership had to first inspire workers to voting for action.

Laying out a strategy to win, not just proposing token strikes, was central to achieving huge turnouts and thumping votes for action.

Fusing the politicisation and enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn’s policies with a strategy of building protests inside and outside workplaces can beat the Tory laws.


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