In response to the RMT’s national ballot of workers in Network Rail and 15 mainline Train Operating Companies, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said the government will accelerate plans for new laws to restrict transport workers’ strikes.
The plan is not new: the Tories’ 2019 manifesto included a commitment to implement the laws, which would impose a legally-mandated “minimum service” during transport strikes. The law was in the first Queen’s Speech in February 2020, and although the pandemic re-callibrated government priorities, when Business Secretary Alok Sharma was asked in July 2020 if the government still planned to introduce the laws, he confirmed they did. In September 2020, a statement launched by Free Our Unions saw seven Labour MPs and dozens of trade union officials and activists commit to a renewed campaign against both the existing anti-union laws, and proposed new ones.
At its October 2021 AGM, rail and transport union RMT passed a motion committing the union to a policy of non-compliance should “minimum service” laws be imposed. That would be a radical step, and would require the rest of the labour movement to rally round the RMT.
In the same month, Unite’s conference passed a motion reaffirming its opposition to all anti-strike laws, both existing and proposed. This motion also resolved to call on the TUC to organise a national demonstration against the laws, and to organise one directly via a “coalition of the willing” if the TUC did not.
The June 2021 congress of the GMB, Britain’s third biggest union, also passed comprehensive policy opposing anti-strike laws, and resolving to pursue joint-union campaigning against them. Labour Party and TUC conferences also have existing policy supporting the abolition of existing anti-strike laws, and opposing the imposition of new ones.
The Telegraph article which included Shapps’ remarks also included the announcement of plans to encourage teachers to bring lawyers or arbitrators with them to disciplinary hand grievance hearings, rather than union reps: we also need to be ready to resist new laws restricting unions’ role in workplace procedures.
The general secretaries of Unite, RMT, and TSSA have all made strong press statements in response to Shapps’ comments. We need grassroots resistance too.
Free Our Unions can send speakers to meetings and protests. We will be producing additional materials and resources in the coming weeks to help rank-and-file trade union activists organise against new restrictions on our rights.