The Democrats, Labour, and “secondary boycotts”

Keir Starmer has praised Joe Biden and urged Labour to learn from the Democrats’ victory in the US presidential election.

Starmer should learn from the proposals on workers’ rights the Democrats made.

The Democratic Party platform promised to “prioritize passing the PRO Act and restoring workers’ rights, including the right to launch secondary boycotts”.

The US term “secondary boycotts” is used to describe different things, but in this context it means what in Britain is referred to as secondary action or solidarity action. That is, one group of workers taking industrial action in support of the demands of another group of workers – a right fundamental to effective working-class struggle and the whole ethos of the labour movement, but which is legally suppressed in both the US and Britain.

The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO) is legislation already passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives (but not by the Republican-controlled Senate). While it could and should be much stronger, it is significant – and it includes restoring the right to solidarity action.

The Democratic leadership routinely ignores its own platforms, and if the Republicans keep control of the Senate that will give it an excuse to go quiet on the PRO. Nonetheless, it has both gone further and done more to make a noise about it than the Labour leadership here.

It is striking that Labour, even under Jeremy Corbyn, has been more reticent on these issues than the corporate-dominated Democratic Party.

The labour movement should insist Starmer and co. commit and campaign for a strong programme of workers’ and trade union rights, including the policy on repealing the anti-union laws passed by multiple Labour Party conferences. A strong right to strike, including in solidarity with other workers, must form the heart of that commitment.

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