Court rules against nurses’ strike

The final day (2 May) of a planned strike by nurses’ union the RCN has been cancelled, after the government took the union to court to block the strike. The judge agreed with the government’s assertion that the RCN’s industrial action ballot mandate expired at 23:59 on 1 May, making the final day of the strike unlawful.

The RCN held a protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice, where protesters held placards including one reading “who takes their heroes to court?”

RCN leader Pat Cullen said: “The full weight of government gave ministers this victory over nursing staff. It is the darkest day of this dispute so far – the government taking its own nurses through the courts in bitterness at their simple expectation of a better pay deal. Nursing staff will be angered but not crushed by today’s interim order. It may even make them more determined to vote in next month’s reballot for a further six months of action.”

The law that the government’s case relied on, which stipulates that industrial action mandates expire and must be renewed on a six-monthly basis, is part of a complex network of bureaucratic and administrative restrictions placed on unions designed to slow down and obstruct strikes.

Other laws include the requirement for ballots to be conducted by individual postal ballot, rather than electronically or by votes in workplace meetings; minimum notice periods prior to balloting and taking action; and restrictions on the issues over which unions can strike, including a prohibition on striking in support of other workers.

Although it is understandable that Cullen focused on the RCN’s re-ballot in her response, we also need direct confrontation with anti-union laws. Almost all unions have policies committing them to campaign for the abolition of these laws, but these policies are rarely acted on, even to the limited extent of mentioning them in speeches.

With the Tories planning to impose yet more restrictions, the labour movement must urgently step up our collective efforts to campaign against anti-strike laws.

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