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14 January 2015

Stop the Tory strike ban plan

Last Sunday, in Paris, Prime Minister David Cameron was happy to rub shoulders with fellow right-wing political leaders at the head of the millions strong march to defend 'democracy'.

However, the Tory premier's lofty ideals don't appear to have made it to this side of the English Channel. Au contraire, the Tories have yet again announced more anti-trade union measures for their election manifesto to further restrict the ability of workers to defend jobs, pay, pensions and services.

Among the Tories' latest attacks is the imposition of an unfeasibly high yes vote in strike ballots for 'core public services', such as firefighters, health workers, transport workers and teachers. All groups who have recently conducted high-profile industrial action.

Currently, a simple majority in a workforce ballot is sufficient to allow workers' action. However, Tory transport minister Patrick McLoughlin - who dismissed the recent London bus workers' pay strike (see page 4) as "ridiculous" - wants a new law to impose a strike ballot threshold of 40% of the total membership, not simply a majority of those who actually vote.

For example, if 700 out of a union membership of 1,000 vote in a ballot (a 70% turnout) and the result is 395 yes, 295 no and ten spoilt papers, even though 56% voted yes, under the Tories' rules it is only 39.5% of the overall membership thereby invalidating the yes vote.

Agency workers

The Tories also want to lift a ban on the use of agency workers during industrial action, so that schools can draft in tens of thousands of supply teachers instead of having to close. They also want to impose a three-month time limit after a ballot for strike action to take place and further restrict picketing.

Of course Cameron conveniently omits to mention that his party secured only 23.5% support of the total electorate in the 2010 general election. On that basis, if his proposed rules were applied, the Tories would not have been able to form a government.

Even with Lib Dem support the total coalition vote was 37%, still short of 40%. Indeed, only 15 MPs achieved a 40% yes threshold in 2010.

In fact, no political party in Britain since 1951 has secured the support of 40% of the electorate.

This strike ban proposal, along with the current attack on PCS (see the Socialist 834), has to be fought collectively by the trade unions, both industrially and politically. Thatcher's anti-union laws stayed on the statute book through the Blair and Brown years so it would be a mistake to be just left to a possible Labour victory in May.

This again shows the importance of building a political alternative that can stand against austerity and for union rights.