Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/845/20160
How to strike against privatisation
Greenwich Unite members
It is a mistaken but honest belief held by some trade union activists that workers cannot take legal action against privatisation. But there are also right wing trade union leaders who have deliberately spread the myth in order to stop strike action. However, recent strike campaigns have shown that it can be done.
The Socialist Party-led Greenwich local government Unite branch in south London has taken strike action over privatisation. Back in 2012, library workers went on strike against privatisation proposals. While the campaign did not stop the transfer, it secured protection of pay and conditions far in excess of that within the 'Tupe' legislation.
The myth has been spread because the Thatcher government had made political strikes illegal - and a strike against privatisation has long been held to be a political strike. However, the legal issue is avoided by making the strike about the identity of the employer and protecting pay and conditions, rather than about the principle of privatisation.
The law requires that, prior to a ballot, notice is issued to the employer making clear the issues in dispute. To comply with the law, unions can state in this notice that the identity of the employer is a contractual term and that it believes pay and conditions are safer with the current employer than the proposed one.
Greenwich Unite has recently balloted members working in the 'cash in transit' section on these issues. In nearby borough Bromley, where the council is implementing privatisation on a mass scale, authorisation has been sought from the union for a ballot using the same principles.
Tupe is supposed to protect pay and conditions for transferred staff, but only gives protection at the point of transfer. Once transferred, employers have been using all sorts of mechanisms to attack workers' pay and conditions. Recent legislation waters down Tupe further by removing the protection of national pay-bargained agreements.
Far more effective is the strike weapon, as shown by the Greenwich Library strike. Not only do pay and conditions remain protected, but last year further strike action won 17 new jobs and also a commitment from the employers to stick with national pay bargaining, something they had threatened to withdraw from.
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In The Socialist 25 February 2015:
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