Prospective Prime Minister Liz Truss has announced a raft of new anti-strike laws she plans to introduce if elected. These include:
• Action within thirty days of taking office to introduce the “minimum service requirement” outlawing all-out strikes in certain sectors that the Tories pledged in their 2019 manifesto for transport – but extended to other sectors too.
• Doubling the minimum notice period for strikes from two to four weeks;
• Raising the threshold for strikes in certain “essential” sectors from 40% of the whole eligible membership voting to 50% and extending this to the whole economy;
• Some sort of “cooling off period” meaning unions cannot strike at will after a ballot mandate;
• Outlawing or restricting strike pay.
Effective workplace organisation and effective strikes are already heavily restricted in the UK, which has what Tony Blair once proudly called “the most restrictive union laws in the western world”.
Truss’s proposals would substantially reduce strikes from a leveraging of workers’ power to token protests, with limited impact.
In the face of such a threat, it feels trite to repeat the truism that “the labour movement must resist”. But we cannot afford to repeat the experience of the campaign against what became the 2017 Trade Union Act, a largely desultory affair culminating in a single national rally and parliamentary lobby. Union general secretaries such as Mick Lynch and Sharon Graham have spoken strongly about campaigns of resistance: those words must be turned into action.
Join us on Wednesday 3 August at 7pm for an organising meeting to discuss building the fightback. Click here for details, including Zoom link.
Truss is proposing new laws in response to a rising tide of class struggle. But the reason she and other Tories feel able to go so far is that our movement has failed to adequately oppose and resist existing laws. That makes it easier to extend them.
But real resistance now can force the Tories back. As well as continuing campaigns of strikes, unions should enact their policies to organise action, including rallies and protests, locally and nationally, against anti-strike laws. Labour Party activists must organise to extract commitments from the party leadership to repeal anti-strike laws in government, in accordance with Labour Party policy.
The RMT’s Mick Lynch has rightly emphasised the extent to which Truss’s plans are an attack on democracy. A society in which workers do not have freedom to organise and take action at work risks is, in effect, a dictatorship of the boss.
As Free Our Unions, we’ll be reaching out to unions that support us, and to campaigns like the Institute for Employment Rights and the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom, which are also active on this issue, to discuss joint activity and national campaigning.
Some argue that, with no immediate prospect of electing a government likely to repeal the laws, we should focus on organising to defy them rather than campaigning for their repeal. But the two things are not counterposed; in fact, they are linked. It is only via a concerted national campaign of resistance, demanding the abolition of the laws and their replacement with a full, legally-enshrined right to strike, that the courage and confidence to defy the laws can be developed.