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Do workers need a new strike ballot after 12 weeks?

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Issue 2566
Picturehouse workers are one set of strikers who have had to reballot
Picturehouse workers are one set of strikers who have had to reballot (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Groups of workers who’ve led impressive strikes this year have then halted their action to run a second ballot once 12 weeks have passed.

This can seem like a necessary evil—but the benefits it brings are few and the cost much too high.

Workers have the legal right to withdraw their labour with or without a ballot.

If they do so they are not breaking the law, but they are in breach of contract.

Getting an official mandate means that, for 12 weeks, the bosses cannot respond with “selective dismissal” of strikers.

That means they legally can’t just fire you for striking—though they can still find other excuses.

Conversely, after the mandate expires all other legal protections still apply.

In particular, bosses still aren’t allowed to sack you for trade union related activity.

So the difference made by the 12-week ban on selective dismissal isn’t enormous.

Either way, to get these rules enforced any sacked strikers must wage a long, costly and difficult employment tribunal fight.


If they win it will be far too late to influence the dispute.

The real power to stop sackings lies in workers’ solidarity—the very power they are exercising by going on strike. So the best protection is staying mobilised.

Delays to action work in the bosses’ favour—that’s why the Tories’ anti-union laws encourage them.

To run a new ballot and then give legal notice for new strikes takes time—often a month or more.

Every time momentum is lost it has to be rebuilt in the face of fatigue and frustration. But reballots are not mandatory.

Workers at the National Gallery continued fighting privatisation and victimisation for much longer than 12 weeks in 2015. We’ve also seen unofficial strikes in recent years with no ballot—from social workers to postal workers.

A second ballot needn’t be a disaster. If it’s called far enough in advance workers can ballot while still striking.

If officials insist on holding up further strikes for a new vote, workers can organise protests and meetings to keep active between walkouts.

But choosing between the real protection offered by their action and the phoney protection offered by the law, workers should be in no doubt.


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