Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/11489

Posted on 21 March 2011 at 15:15 GMT

Rail unions win over anti-strike laws

Tube strike: RMT strikers picket the London Underground, photo Paul Mattsson

Tube strike: RMT strikers picket the London Underground, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

On Friday 4 March 2011 the Court of Appeal in London handed down definitive judgements in two important industrial action cases.

Alex Gordon, president of Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union (RMT)

In both ASLEF v London Midland and RMT v Serco Docklands Light Railway, High Court judges had previously granted injunctions banning strike action after finding union strike notices "defective" and union explanations of how they ensured reliable membership data for balloting and engaging in strike action "inadequate".

The superior court has now overturned those injunctions and comprehensively disposed of arguments originally used in the High Court to justify them.

Such an authoritative judgement by the Court of Appeal would be of great significance at any time. However, coming as it does when government policies to destroy up to 750,000 public sector jobs and an estimated 900,000 private sector jobs through cuts and outsourcing, while attacking wages, pensions and public services are fuelling demands for trade unions to lead a fightback, the effect of this Appeal Court judgement is potentially explosive.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow described the judgment as: "not only a victory for staff on Serco Docklands and RMT's 80,000 members but also a massive victory for seven million trade unionists in the UK."

"The injunction would have taken anti-union laws in this country to within a whisker of effectively banning the right to strike and would have tightened the noose to the point of strangulation around the necks of nurses, firefighters, ambulance crew, home helps and others fighting back.

"This victory helps clear the path for those workers to take action".

High Court's use of 'trifles'

Alex Gordon, Rail, Maritime & Transport Workers Union (RMT) President, speaking at the Socialism 2010 rally, photo Paul Mattsson

Alex Gordon, Rail, Maritime & Transport Workers Union (RMT) President, speaking at the Socialism 2010 rally, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

In the London Midland case, the union mistakenly sent ballot papers to two members not entitled to vote (out of 604 balloted, 86% voted for strike action) - one had changed employer, the other had become a manager.

This was sufficient for the High Court to grant its injunction.

The Appeal Court ruled that this should have been dealt with as a small accidental failure and found the "de minimis" exception (a Latin tag meaning 'trifling') should apply in employment law as in other areas of law.

Similarly, the High Court found the union's explanations were inaccurate because the word "audit" was used to describe its method of checking membership records.

Legal counsel for the employer even argued that, to conduct a strike ballot, RMT should retain the services of auditors such as KPMG, whose expertise impressed so many corporate clients from Enron to Lehman Brothers.

The Appeal Court said the union's explanation of its membership data was simply for employers "to understand something about the reliability of the data supplied.

"Something, but not necessarily very much".

The court ruled that the use of the word "audit" is not misleading. Neither is there any obligation on the union to use identical job category definitions to the employer.

The law should be given a "likely and workable construction" rather than a restrictive one.

Hair-splitting rejected

Tube strike: RMT strikers picket the London Underground, photo Paul Mattsson

Tube strike: RMT strikers picket the London Underground, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

The implications of the Appeal Court's ruling are significant and immediate. While employers will continue to apply for injunctions against strike action on spurious and vexatious grounds using legislation memorably lauded by Tony Blair as: "the most restrictive on trade unions in the western world", many of the avenues used in recent years in Metrobus v Unite, EDF v RMT, BA v Unite and Network Rail v RMT, which relied on legal hair-splitting and nit-picking trivia are now closed.

Additionally, Justice Patrick Elias and his colleagues in the Appeal Court made another significant ruling. Common law recognises no right to strike in Britain, however the Appeal Court confirmed that international law does confer a right to strike under International Labour Organisation Conventions 98 and 151.

In addition, the European Convention on Human Rights upholds the right to strike as an element of Article 11(1) on freedom of association.

In a further case, RMT is taking the British government to the European Court of Human Rights for breaching international law through prohibiting the right to take sympathetic (or solidarity) action banned as 'secondary action' by the Tory government in 1980.

Further attacks

Given the profound and prolonged character of the current economic crisis and the history of attacks on trade unions and collective bargaining in Britain by the ruling class, it is likely the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government will propose new primary legislation further restricting the right to strike.

Already far-right voices such as London mayor, Boris Johnson, and the Policy Exchange think tank, have argued for industrial action ballots to achieve a minimum participation threshold and for restrictions on the right to strike for workers in essential public services.

More likely however, will be an attempt to extend the 'proportionality' concept, which has been imported from European law in a number of recent cases by the EU Supreme Court, the European Court of Justice.

This gives judges power to decide what forms of action (if any) are appropriate in lawful industrial disputes, something not even Thatcher's anti-union laws achieved.

For workers facing the onslaught of European Union and UK government austerity policies, the lessons are very clear. The successful legal appeal by ASLEF and RMT has created a window of opportunity allowing trade unions to fight back using strike action to defend jobs and services.

The policy of coordinated strike action to defeat austerity cuts agreed at last year's TUC conference can now be a practical reality.

As cuts start to bite in 2011, trade unions need to bring forward a plan for a strike movement leading to generalised strike action to defend trade union members, their families and communities from the impact of government policies.

There are now fewer legal impediments to doing so.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.






Related links:

Anti-union laws:

triangleRoyal Mail bosses block strike - back postal workers

triangleTories weak: time for the TUC to act

triangleConference opens debate on Labour and pledges to fight anti-union laws

triangleKick out the Tories: For a Corbyn-led government

triangleJeremy Corbyn's workers' charter

Rail:

triangleBrutal rail privateer Abellio takes over Midlands rail services

triangleNationalise rail now

triangleThe Socialist inbox

triangleStrike wave continues

Strike:

triangleDriving examiners walkout hits first day of new test

triangleSchool staff strike against privatisation

triangleTeachers strike in Sheffield

RMT:

triangleAnti-DOO lobby of Liverpool's transport committee

triangleVirgin train workers vote for strike action over pay

Trade unions:

triangleStrikers rally in Liverpool

News and socialist analysis

News and socialist analysis

8/12/17

Government

Local government pay: fight for the 5% claim, fully funded

6/12/17

Labour

Corbyn's Labour can defeat Tories with socialist programme

6/12/17

NHS

Branson sues NHS: kick out the profiteers

6/12/17

Immigration

Royal wedding exposes them-and-us visa system

6/12/17

Banks

RBS to sack 1,000: nationalise the banks

6/12/17

Homelessness

Rough sleeping crisis: make homes, not arrests

6/12/17

Poverty

End Tory war on poor

6/12/17

Rail

Nationalise rail now

29/11/17

Them & Us

Them & us

29/11/17

Homes

Tory housing policy: build zilch, hike prices

29/11/17

Wages

Make the Tories history

29/11/17

Birmingham

Birmingham bin workers win!

29/11/17

British economy

Amber warning lights flash on British economy

23/11/17

Pay

After the budget - unions must launch pay fight

22/11/17

Climate change

Carbon dioxide hits 800,000-year high: end profit-driven pollution

triangleMore News and socialist analysis articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

triangle8 Dec Local government pay: fight for the full 5% claim

triangle6 Dec Strikers rally in Liverpool

triangle6 Dec Corbyn's Labour can defeat Tories with socialist programme

triangle5 Dec Victory at Glenfield shows people power can save our NHS

triangle5 Dec Labour council Blairites deselected

triangle30 Nov Victory: Glenfield Children's Heart Centre saved!

triangle30 Nov Dramatic retelling of Grunwick strike

More ...

triangle12 Dec Birmingham South East Socialist Party: Can the Labour Party be changed?

triangle12 Dec Liverpool Socialist Party: Fighting council cuts

triangle13 Dec Caerphilly Socialist Party: Are we heading for an era of war?

triangle14 Dec Wakefield Socialist Party: Universal Credit - the Tories' latest assault on the poor

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Archive

Archives:

December 2017

November 2017

October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999

Legal

SP RSS feed RSS

Platform setting: = No platform choice

V2