In his government’s first Queen’s Speech, Boris Johnson has announced that he plans to introduce new laws to restrict strikes. There could be little clearer indication of the class loyalties of his government than this.
Despite his wildly hypocritical appeals to “anti-establishment” feeling, here his government shows its true colours, in attempting to further restrict the ability of working-class people to take action to improve our lives.
The law is designed to initially target the rail and transport industries, imposing a “minimum service requirement” which would effectively ban transport workers from taking all-out strike action. If the law is introduced and not quickly challenged, the Tories will undoubtedly propose extending it to other industries, such as the fire service, health, and education – all already designated as “essential services” requiring a double threshold under the terms of the 2016 Trade Union Act.
The entire labour movement, including the Labour Party, must respond immediately. The protest called outside Parliament by the RMT and others on 19 December must be the start of an ongoing campaign. Unions should call meetings and protests at local and national levels, and the Labour Party and the TUC should call a national demonstration. Despite the election defeat, Labour and Momentum showed significant capacity in mobilising hundreds of people to canvas in marginal seats. That capacity must now be used to resist these attacks on our rights.
Although the immediate struggle is necessarily defensive, a counteroffensive stance is also necessary. Resisting the new law should not mean an accommodation with the status quo, where our right to strike is severely curtailed by arbitrary balloting thresholds; the prohibition on workplace ballots; bans on solidarity action and strikes over political issues; and restrictions on effective picketing. A movement of resistance to the new law must also be a movement demanding the abolition of all anti-union laws.
If the law is imposed, we also need to confront that reality that, as with any unjust law, defeating it will require that it be broken. Against the backdrop of historically low levels of strikes, expecting mass unofficial action on an short-term timescale is unrealistic. But conversations must be had in workplaces and union branches, in the first instance in the industries being targeted, about rebuilding the confidence and organisation necessary.
Free Our Unions, a campaign initiated by Lambeth Unison and now backed by the Fire Brigades Union, the RMT, and the IWGB nationally, as well as dozens of union branches, will be renewing our activity in 2020, and working with others across the labour movement to fight against anti-union laws.
To get in touch with the campaign and work with us on this, email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @freeourunions. The campaign has produced a model motion, below, for use in trade union branches. The clauses in [square brackets] are intended for use in rail and transport union branches.
MODEL MOTION FOR TRADE UNION BRANCHES
This branch notes that Britain has what Tony Blair proudly called “the most restrictive labour laws in Western Europe.”
Anti-trade union laws were introduced under Thatcher and Major, left on the statute books under Blair and Brown, and added to by Cameron.
This branch further notes that Boris Johnson’s new Tory government plans to further restrict workers’ and trade union rights by banning effective strike action in the rail and transport industries, with a new law requiring a minimum service be run during transport strikes.
This branch believes the entire labour movement, including the Labour Party, must oppose these laws using every means at our disposal.
[As a rail/transport union, these laws directly target our members’ ability to take action to defend and improve our conditions.]
This branch also acknowledges that, in the history of our movement, unjust laws have sometimes had to be broken.
This branch resolves:
- To work with the Free Our Unions campaign and others organising to stop the imposition of the new anti-strike law.
- To add our branch as a signatory to the current Free Our Unions statement, calling for united resistance to the new laws.
- Invite a speaker from Free Our Unions to a future branch meeting.
- [Call on our NEC to approach other rail/transport unions to jointly organise a national demonstration against this law, and for the repeal of all existing anti-union laws, as soon as feasibly possible.]
- To contact local Labour Party branches and Trades Councils in our area to suggest joint meetings/activity about this issue.
- To ask that this motion be distributed to all branches via branch correspondence.