New anti-union laws that try to take away the right to strike from one in five workers start their final stages in parliament next week. The Minimum Service Levels Bill would force workers in areas including health, fire and rescue, education and transport to scab on their own strikes.
Ambulance workers, bus drivers, rail guards and teachers are the first targets, but others will follow. The new law threatens trade unionists with the sack if they don’t follow bosses’ demands for continued services during a walkout. And it would hit unions with fines for resistance.
It’s pro-boss, ruling class legislation designed to gut workers’ strength and rule out an extension of the rise in strikes. It has to be stopped. The TUC union federation has called a protest for Monday of next week. Everyone who can should join it. But the TUC’s response to the laws is terribly weak. It says, “We will not give in until these laws are defeated.”
It’s clear many union leaders will surrender. The TUC goes on, “If the Tories are going to attack our right to strike, we need to make them pay a political price for it.” There’s no talk of defiance or mass resistance. It’s a not very coded call to use these laws as a reason to put Keir Starmer in Downing Street.
With every previous anti‑union law, trade union leaders have spouted brave words—and then said the law has to be obeyed. Some union leaders like these laws because they give them an excuse to avoid militant action.
FBU firefighters’ union leader Matt Wrack called in March for a campaign to defy the anti-union law and said unions should mount “mass non-cooperation and non-compliance”. That’s the message that must go out next Monday. Union leaders need to pledge that the group first affected should refuse to obey the law. And that other unions will actively support them—even if that action is deemed illegal.
But the assault on strikes is part of a much wider attempt to crack down on protests. In the last two weeks, cops have seized anti-monarchy activists and Just Stop Oil protesters even before they started protesting. In east London around 20 cops burst into a meeting of 14 Animal Rising supporters who were sitting in a circle holding a non-violent action workshop.
Police handcuffed and arrested them for alleged offences such as conspiracy to commit public nuisance. And the Tories are handing the cops new powers. Under the Public Order Act, chaining yourself to railings or attaching yourself to another person could mean 51 weeks in jail. The act introduces “serious disruption prevention orders”, whose purpose is to take out what the police call “aggravated activists”.
If you are a “troublemaker”, you can be stopped from attending or encouraging protests, forced to report to a police station, and prohibited from associating with others. Measures used first mainly against Muslims are now universal. We can beat the laws and defend protest rights, but it needs action and solidarity, not just words.
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