UK unions fight to #KillTheBill regulating strikes
4 stars based on
It threatens to reduce the capacity of unions to organise and represent members at work and undermine the basic right to strike. The Tory government fears strikes in these sectors as potential centres of resistance to the deep cuts currently being implemented and yet to come.
In essence, as part of a strategy to reduce the public deficit by cutting many more jobs, reducing pensions, freezing pay rises and further outsourcing, the Trade Union Act, even in its diluted form, is designed to make it more difficult for unions to stop employers cutting pay, pensions and staff and creating more flexible working practices.
Alas, there was an enormous trade union bill demonstration between the severity of the restrictive measures contained in the Bill and the relatively lacklustre response mounted by the Trades Union Congress and trade union bureaucracy. It was tantamount to preparing to work within the new law, not defy it. It is important not just to look at the huge challenges of the Act and the weaknesses of the official trade union response, but also to consider what can be done to circumnavigate and blunt the legislation, and ultimately to encourage a militant fightback that can make it inoperable.
This defiance occurred despite the hesitations and restraint of the trade union bureaucracy, but it was not only unofficial rank and file action that took place. While the defeat of the Industrial Relations Act is justifiably viewed as being a magnificent chapter in British working class history, the trade union movement by no means sprang forth in united hostility to the Tories and the legislation.
This had been drawn up by employment secretary Barbara Castle. But concerned not to humiliate Wilson or drive him out of office, the TUC refused to support strike action against a Labour government, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands trade union bill demonstration rank and file members were deeply hostile to trade union bill demonstration proposals.
It was left to the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions LCDTUa Communist Party CP controlled body formed in to campaign against government wage constraint and, bringing together a large number of shop floor militants, lay trade union reps and some full-time officials within and beyond the membership ranks of the CP5 to take the initiative in mounting the first overtly political strike since the General Strike.
Taking the call for industrial action against the White Paper made by various regional, district and local union bodies amenable to CP influence, the LCDTU declared support for a one-day stoppage of work to take place on 27 February to coincide with a conference of executive committees of unions affiliated to the TUC.
Despite its careful phrasing to avoid accusations that an unofficial body was mounting action outside official union structures, the LCDTU was for the second time supporting strike trade union bill demonstration independently of the bulk of the official union leadership and against its powerful opposition. There was also a 25,strong demonstration in London. As left wing transport union leader Jack Jones acknowledged in retrospect: It proposed the state registration of unions, with the loss of immunity from being sued by employers in the civil courts if they were not registered, and a new National Industrial Relations Court with punitive powers to impose fines on unions and order sequestration of their assets.
A consultative document on trade union bill demonstration relations legislation issued in Octoberwith only a few weeks for comment, made it clear the Tories were determined to forge ahead with its plans to legally shackle the ability of trade unions to organise and represent their members.
Yet the TUC leadership played a very ambivalent role. But at the same time, they were reluctant to lead a fight that would defy the law and risk all-out confrontation with the government. While agreeing that education and agitation against the proposed legislation were important, the conference criticised the TUC for failing to understand that they were best developed through mass strike action. Encouraged by a wide range of calls for strikes from numerous workplace and local and regional union bodies, it trade union bill demonstration more forthright than it had been 18 months earlier, calling for a one-day strike on 8 Decemberthe day the Bill was to be published.
However, in the event, official union support for the action was extended slightly further than previously to embrace the CEU constructional engineers and ACTT television and allied technicians, with the SOGAT print union leadership even going into hiding for 24 hours to avoid being served with a court injunction ordering them to call off the officially sanctioned strike of trade union bill demonstration members.
In the process the strikes reached much higher, if still limited, levels than against In Place of Strifewith somewhere betweenand trade union bill demonstration, taking part. The pattern of support largely followed that of previous stoppages, being strongest in Scotland, Merseyside, Manchester, Sheffield and London, and mainly concentrated in engineering, print, the docks and mines; national newspaper production was also stopped.
TUC general secretary Vic Feather remarked that 9. Significantly, the LCDTU and CP took the view that to defeat the Industrial Relations Act through mass strike action it would be necessary to go beyond the forces that it was able to mobilise itself. They would need to win over the support of much larger sections of the official trade union movement.
Considerable effort trade union bill demonstration placed on winning influence inside official union structures and putting pressure on the union bureaucracy to turn their trade union bill demonstration rhetoric into action. On the basis that it was now a Conservative rather than Labour government introducing the anti-union legislation, there was more receptiveness to this appeal, at least among some left officials.
As a result, in most unions shopfloor militants mobilised in favour of strike action in the face of opposition from their leaders. Sometimes this meant providing informal pragmatic support for union officials sympathetic to the trade union bill demonstration for more militant action but trying to avoid causing them public embarrassment in the process.
The AUEW, the second biggest union trade union bill demonstration the country, was the union where the CP and the Broad Left were strongest and national president Hugh Scanlon gave a more militant official lead on the issue of anti-union legislation.
On both 1 March and 18 March an trade union bill demonstration 1. The second strike day coincided with another special TUC conference to agree policy on the legislation. In the process, the motor industry, docks and newspapers were completely closed down, with trade union bill demonstration also in the gas, water and electricity supply industries.
Trade union bill demonstration thereby fed back into the overall unofficial momentum from below. As Tony Cliff, in assessing the growing momentum of the movement against the Industrial Relations Bill in and earlyargued:. The movement, unofficial in origin, could not have developed on the scale it did without the support of sections of the trade union leadership.
This support changed the atmosphere of the campaign…the leftward shift of trade union bill demonstration of the official movement—however limited it was…reflected real pressure from significant numbers of militants within the movement….
The ultra-left illusions that the official trade union movement is trade union bill demonstration, that it cannot mobilise its membership and that the trade union bill demonstration field of trade union activity for revolutionary socialists are unofficial rank and file committees, have been yet again exposed as dangerous nonsense.
The strikes that took place in the trade union bill demonstration of were to be the last action—official or unofficial—against the legislation until For a period in against In Place of Strifeand at the end of and the start of against the Industrial Relations Act, trade union bill demonstration had been prepared to organise strike action independently of the bulk of the trade union leadership and against powerful opposition from the TUC.
It was not afraid to instigate unofficial action where it perceived the possibility of mobilising minority sections of the official union movement. Rather, it aimed to act as a pressure group on those unions where officials friendly to the CP—for example, those who supported Scanlon in the engineering union and Jones trade union bill demonstration the transport union—were battling against the traditional right-wing: Once the Industrial Relations Bill had become law the terrain changed from one of general protest against the government to intervening in specific disputes to encourage defiance of the law irrespective of the opposition of union officialdom.
As a result, there was to be a loss of momentum, with no further calls for independent action for the remainder of the year. Significantly, at the core of the Industrial Relations Act was a set of measures aimed at strengthening the hand of full-time union officials, making them legally responsible for the actions of their shop stewards and in accordance with the infamous Taff Vale judgement their funds liable to damages.
By agreeing to register with a Registrar of Trade Unions that was given the task of scrutinising their general objectives under the Act trade union bill demonstration, unions were offered some limited protection from the law for example, limiting the amount employers could sue them for. Over the summer of there was considerable growing alarm at the apparent willingness of some unions to comply with the legislation.
However, even trade union bill demonstration by January the majority of unions had obeyed the congress instruction albeit in some cases only after a tough internal fighta number of important trade unions had not, some of whom were later expelled from the TUC, and no commentator at the time believed the TUC would hold the line.
The ebbs and flows of the class struggle at the time were a crucial contextual factor. The latter aimed to use the fear of unemployment to force private sector workers to curb wage demands. The trade union bill demonstration of stoppages in was down more than 40 trade union bill demonstration onand the number of workers involved down by a third.
However, the tide began to turn in the summer of Someworkers throughout the West of Scotland took part in two one-day strikes, with huge demonstrations through Glasgow and solidarity collections in workplaces across England, Scotland and Wales.
The rank and file militancy, which was assisted by Broad Left trade union bill demonstration at different levels of the National Union of Mineworkers NUM despite right wing president Joe Gormley, climaxed at Saltley, Birmingham when 40, engineering and transport workers took solidarity trade union bill demonstration action and 10, marched to help the miners close the coke depot.
However, the government hung on and hoped that with the full battery of provisions trade union bill demonstration the Industrial Relations Act becoming law it would help finally to bring union power to heel. It was only the determination of union members in voting by an 85 percent majority on a near 90 percent turnout in favour of further action that prevented a defeat and forced the government to concede a considerable wage increase.
It appeared as if the Tories had got away with changing the framework within which trade union organisations operated. What decisively altered this picture was the activity of rank and file dockers who, far from agreeing to lift the blacking, now trade union bill demonstration their picketing across the country. Initially three London dock shop stewards trade union bill demonstration the Chobham Farm container depot in Stratford, east London, were threatened with imprisonment if they did not attend the NIRC on 16 June to explain their conduct.
A large picket assembled at Chobham Farm but no arrests took place—instead the official solicitor a crown officer few had ever heard of suddenly appeared and got the government off the hook by setting aside the committals on a technicality.
On Friday 21 July the court obliged by issuing arrest warrants that led to the incarceration in Pentonville Prison of five London dockers for contempt of court. Against the background of an unofficial national stoppage of 35, dockers and widespread outrage inside the trade union movement generally, the TUC General Council came under intense pressure to call action, but dragged their feet for five days before finally doing so.
Even Jack Jones made it trade union bill demonstration that no assistance was to be given by the TGWU and its officials were not to visit the men, although the union representing three of the pickets, the small National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers NASDmade their strike official. While these numbered onlyat most partly because many industries had closed trade union bill demonstration for summer holidays and involved just one or two days of action with longer strikes threatened if the men were not released quicklya momentum began to develop.
Trade union bill demonstration engineers, Heathrow airport workers, London bus workers, construction workers on trade union bill demonstration sites, and many other groups of workers across the country took strike action.
The importance of the strike wave was much greater than the actual numbers involved might indicate. The strikes challenged not only the authority of the official union leaderships, but also that of the judicial system and the government. In the process they challenged the British labourist tradition of keeping trade union activity separate from politics. A national LCDTU conference previously held on 10 June with 1, delegates from trade union bill demonstrationat the time of the unofficial picketing action and threat of imprisonment at Chobham, had heard sharp denunciations of the headlong retreat of the bulk of the leadership of the trade union movement that had left the dockers isolated in defiance.
The conference declared its intention to organise solidarity action in the event of further legal intervention. However, rather than provide any independent lead, it had merely demanded union leaders ignore the Act and organise solidarity action when it was used, with national industrial action on the day of a recalled Congress or the September TUC.
In the process, in certain contexts full-time official union approval contributed to the legitimatisation of action. Moreover, trade union bill demonstration participants at the meeting knew that with moves afoot to trade union bill demonstration the dockers that day its call for action would be unnecessary trade union bill demonstration not need to be translated into practice. Thanks to the judiciary extricating themselves from the rapidly escalating industrial unrest in this fashion, the official solicitor was then able that afternoon to secure the release of the five dockers from prison with the Law Lords re-imposing the fines on the TGWU.
The threatened one-day stoppage was called off. The Industrial Relations Act had been shattered. The government had set up the Industrial Relations Court to enforce the Act. Despite this stunning victory, this was by no means the end of the Industrial Relations Act as is often assumed. In fact, by the end of the NIRC was back in action, instructing the AUEW to admit back into the union a man, James Goad, who had been expelled some years before for strike-breaking by his local branch in Sudbury, Suffolk.
An estimatedworkers joined the strike, with solidarity strikes elsewhere, including the national newspaper industry. It marked the final end of the Industrial Relations Act, which was then belatedly repealed by the Labour government. It justified trade union bill demonstration stance of those who argued that one-day token stoppages against the Act, while excellent, were not in themselves going to bury the legislation, and that the rank and file would respond trade union bill demonstration militant all-out strike action, particularly when it was the union officially that was calling on them to take action.
In summary, this historical review of trade union bill demonstration fight against the anti-union legislation of the late s and early s has shown that the bulk of the official leadership of the unions generally attempted to make every effort to reach some sort of compromise with governments and continually sought to side-track and divert any militant rank and file responses into safer directions. But if the legislative threats were primarily defeated as a result of rank and file action, taken in defiance of the union bureaucracy at key moments, there was also a complex dynamic at work involving a significant level of official support mainly at local but also at national level in some left-led unions for strikes which fed back into the process, with unofficial action also promoted through official channels.
In the period since, the weakening of reps organisation has meant that the rank and file have become more dependent on officials. But this effectively throws the baby out with the bathwater by diminishing the role of the trade union bureaucracy as a crucial factor in the equation. While it is true employers have been able to invalidate some individual strike ballots with the threat or use of court injunctions albeit most ballots have not been subject to such legal sanctionthe use of anti-union legislation to intimidate unions into submission has primarily been possible because of the unwillingness of union leaders to mount resistance.
This is not to suggest that because workers have been very much on the defensive, the mood is one dominated by widespread trade union bill demonstration. On the contrary, there is much evidence to suggest that when the union bureaucracy does give a lead many workers are prepared to fight.
The enthusiasm and willingness of many thousands of workers to respond to official calls for action that we have trade union bill demonstration over the last few years, from TUC demonstrations to strike activity recently manifested among Scottish FE lecturers and dockers in Grangemouthare clear illustrations of this process. Official calls for action have opened up the space for rank and file confidence and organisation to grow and develop.
Moreover, there is a widespread anti-austerity feeling inside the working class and a desire to defend the NHS. There is huge support trade union bill demonstration people see someone fighting back. They show the potential to fight and win if clear leadership is provided. Alas, with the stalling of the public sector pensions battle of through to the Tata steel jobs crisis of this year, the union bureaucracy has once again wasted the potential to encourage action, or only half-heartedly organised action, that could resist attacks from the employers and government and help rebuild the strength of the unions in the process.
Some union leaders clearly either do not want a fight or believe that strike action, even on the scale of 30 November which involved more than trade union bill demonstration million workers, cannot win. They persist with a pessimistic outlook that insists workers are not prepared to fight.