Covid-19 crisis: Protect the right to strike!

Already in the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve seen examples of workers taking industrial action, often to improve workplace safety. Outsourced cleaners, caterers, and porters at Lewisham Hospital walked out to demand the payment unpaid wages. Workers in Lambeth libraries took action to demand the closure of their workplaces. Postal workers in Bridgend struck, after bosses refuse to revise shift patterns and staffing levels to ensure safe distancing in the workplace.

Continue reading “Covid-19 crisis: Protect the right to strike!”

Resist the Tories’ new anti-strike law!

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.

Continue reading “Resist the Tories’ new anti-strike law!”

Free Our Unions fringe meeting at Unison NDC: 14 June, 6:30pm

Free Our Unions supporters in Unison are holding a fringe meeting at the union’s National Delegate Conference, to discuss building resistance to anti-strike laws.

The meeting will take place at 6:30pm on Wednesday 14 June, at The Liverpool pub, 14 James Street, L2 7PQ.

We’ll share further details as they’re confirmed.

PCS conference reaffirms strong stance against anti-strike laws

The Annual Delegate Conference of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) has reaffirmed its strong stance against anti-strike laws.

Motions passed by the conference recommitted the union to campaigning not only against proposed new laws, but against all legislation restricting workers’ rights to organise and strike.

The article below is reposted from the PCS website. We look forward to working with PCS comrades to organise action.

PCS conference gave full support to workers taking strike action against their employers and called for anti-union laws to be repealed.

Motion A79 said that the cost-of-living crisis, fire and rehire tactics and other attacks by employers in pursuit of maintaining profits at our expense, all mean workers are uniting to fight back. Many of these disputes are seeing workers win significant gains.

Ryan from BEIS Cardiff branch moved the motion yesterday (25) and said: “We have suffered 13 years of attacks from a hard-right Tory government, attacks on our terms and conditions and job cuts. This Tory government’s policies have hurt people throughout the UK and directly targeted the most vulnerable and tried to thwart any active opposition.

“The trade union movement is the voice of the working class. Unfortunately, a raft of anti-union laws hangs over the trade union movement like a sword of Damocles.”

The motion pledged to continue to give our solidarity, building practical support for all striking workers.

A79 called for the repeal of all Tory anti-union legislation, from Thatcher, Major, Cameron and Johnson to the present day and instructed the NEC to take the lead in organising campaigns and opposition to this attack on our rights.

Rob from DSg North West branch said: “Let’s organise and fight against the anti-trade union laws.”

Paul Williams spoke on behalf of the NEC and said the Tories need to stop hiding behind anti-union laws and settle our disputes.

“We must do everything we can and campaign in every arena to coordinate an industrial response. We must start to mobilise the rest of the unions,” he said.

Motion A80, which was debated alongside A79, described how the restrictions upon free trade unionism in Britain are not only anti-democratic, they are weapons in the hands of employers to further undermine workers’ ability to fight for more rights, better terms and conditions of employment, and a greater share of the wealth of this grotesquely unequal society. Unions, shackled by hostile legislation, are left to fight the mounting challenges of low pay, precarious conditions of employment and lack of rights with our arms tied behind our backs.

The motion, moved by Tim from Government Legal branch, described how the government’s minimum services legislation was a grotesque attempt by a “government seeking to once and for all cripple trade unions” by shackling them.

“We must promote trade unions as the bastion of people power and democracy,” he said.

Bev Laidlaw spoke on behalf of the NEC and said: “We must ensure that we fight for our rights and we need all unions to come together. Get involved and fight for your rights.”

A80 instructed the NEC to campaign clearly and actively for the complete and speedy repeal of all anti-union laws, for strong legal rights.

Both motions were carried unanimously.

After 22 May

A discussion article by a Free Our Unions supporter.

The 22 May demo against the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill symbolised the problem with the labour movement’s response to the Bill and to anti-union laws more broadly.

It’s good that the TUC called a demonstration on the day the Commons voted on the House of Lords amendments to the Bill (all of which were defeated – the Bill now returns to the Lords, who may however decide not to push back again). It was good to join comrades from various unions and organisations in Parliament Square and talk afterwards. It’s not good that there were, at a real push, only a thousand people there. Not good: but not entirely surprising.

I would have expected a somewhat bigger turnout – but if you do nothing serious to campaign against a law for months, you might find a demo called at short notice right at the end doesn’t mobilise people very effectively.

The RMT, to its credit, called a couple of demonstrations earlier in the year, but on a Monday night and also only about a thousand. The issue of the right to strike was raised on the big 1 February strike day, but rather mutedly. Since then, as far as I can see, pretty much nothing until 22 May. No national demonstration, no days of action with local protests, no campaign of meetings even.

The FBU called, quite late on, for the TUC to call a national demo against the Minimum Service Levels law, and a special TUC Congress to discuss campaigning. Given it was clear the TUC wasn’t going to do those things, the question arose of what the FBU itself would do to make them happen. Then quickly the 22 May vote came.

Some other unions, for instance the RMT, have had formal policy in favour of a national demo for much longer, but done nothing about it.

Free Our Unions, which organised the first on the streets protest against the Minimum Service Levels thread, with Earth Strike, back in October, has campaigned consistently for a much more serious campaign including a real national demo.

What now? Some speakers on 22 May did talk about campaigning after the bill passes, but there very little in the way of practical proposals, even in broad outline.

Meanwhile speakers did call for a Labour government to repeal the MSL law – but failed to mention the 2016 Trade Union Act, which has created such problems for national strikes in the public sector, let alone the older anti-union laws. Every time the Tories introduce a new attack, the debate moves further to the right.

Here are some proposals for discussion in the labour movement:

1. Ideally, given the Bill has not yet passed, unions should call a proper national demonstration as soon as possible. Given the timescale, however, this will become increasingly difficult to argue. However we absolutely should argue for the FBU and as many other unions and union organisations as possible to call a national demonstration in the autumn. I mean a real national demonstration, on a Saturday, attempting to mobilise at least many thousands. By all means emphasise the Minimum Service law, but the central demand should be repeal of all anti-union laws. This should be followed by a national day or week of action, with local protests and activities.

2. The FBU and other organisations should organise a special labour movement conference to discuss campaigning on this issue, including what calls for defiance mean in practice.

3. We also need an organised labour movement initiative to demand, assert as clear movement policy and seek to win a commitment from the Labour Party to repeal all the anti-union laws.

With anti-union laws now piled up high, and an incoming Labour government very possibly likely to equivocate on repealing even the most recent ones, discussion about how we take forward this fight is urgent.

Join us on 8 June to discuss the next steps. Click here for details.

Online meeting, 7pm, Thursday 8 June: where next in the fight against anti-strike laws?

Log in via Zoom here

Meeting ID: 835 3823 9276
Passcode: 683428

Register on Eventbrite here

The Tories’ Minimum Service Levels Bill has its next Parliamentary reading on 22 May. The TUC has rightly called an emergency protest outside Parliament for 6:30pm that evening.

While the Bill could spend more time ping-ponging between the Commons and the Lords, it is also possible that it could become law within weeks or months. We need opportunities to discuss the next steps in the fight – not only against this bill, but against all anti-union laws.

Free Our Unions has called an open discussion and planning meeting for 7pm on Thursday 8 June. Speakers will include Labour MP Nadia Whittome, but the majority of time will be set aside for discussion.

Amongst other issues, we hope to discuss how we can organise across the movement to act on the Fire Brigades Union’s call for a “mass campaign of non-compliance” with the law, and what effective defiance might look like.

Free Our Unions has invited the Institute of Employment Rights and the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom to co-sponsor the meeting and contribute to the discussion.

Please join us at 7pm on 8 June.

Log in via Zoom here.

Meeting ID: 835 3823 9276
Passcode: 683428

TUC calls emergency protest at Parliament- 6pm, 22 May

The TUC has called an emergency protest in Parliament Square at 6pm on Monday 22 May, when the Minimum Service Levels Bill is due for its next, and possibly final, Parliamentary reading and debate.

Get down with your union banners! Free Our Unions will be distributing our latest briefing, and we’re planning a discussion/organising meeting to discuss next steps in the fight.

New Free Our Unions briefing

We’ve produced a new campaign briefing for activists to help them push inside their unions for a national demonstration against anti-strike laws. The briefing includes a model motion for union branches, the recent policy passed by the Fire Brigades Union Executive Committee calling for a national demonstration and defiance of the laws, and a discussion article on what defiance could mean in practise.

Download the briefing as a PDF below. For printed copies for distribution in your workplace/union branch, email us at freeourunions@gmail.com.

Printer-ready version:

House of Lords amends anti-strike bill – but no room for complacency!

The House of Lords has approved amendments to the Tories’ Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill which would blunt some if its worst effects.

The Lords voted for an amendment that extends protection from dismissal to striking workers who are named in a minimum service complement and refuse to work: “Failure to comply with a work notice shall not be regarded as a breach of the contract of employment of any person identified in the work notice, or constitute grounds for dismissal or any other detriment.”

The Lords also voted to exempt Scotland and Wales from the bill’s measures, meaning employers and government in those countries will not have to set minimum service levels, allowing all-out strikes to take place. It also voted to require a consultation on the bill’s impact on the right to strike.

These are positive developments, but they should not be hailed as decisive “victories”. There is no room for complacency; the bill still has to go back to the Commons, where the amendments will be discussed and voted on. And even if they are incorporated into the final version of the bill, it remains an enormous attack on workers’ ability to strike effectively.

We still need assertive political campaigning against the bill, including a national demonstration, and a serious discussion about defiance of the law if it is passed.

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.

Emergency protest at Parliament, date TBC

Rail union RMT has announced to members in a circular that the TUC plans to call an emergency protest in Westminster on the evening of the next parliamentary reading of the Minimum Services Levels Bill.

This will take place sometimes between 10-25 May. (See below for the text of the RMT circular.)

Protests coinciding with parliamentary readings are important. When we know when the bill will be heard, a protest must certainly be called. However, the TUC – or a coalition of individual unions – does not have to, and should not, wait for the parliamentary timetable to be announced to call action. Unions must call a national demonstration, on a Saturday, and throw real resources into mobilising for it.

Several unions already have policy calling for this: it’s time they were enacted.

Dear Colleagues,


I wanted to provide you with an important update on our campaign against the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill which continues to pose a fundamental threat to our democratic and human right to withdraw our labour.

Since I last wrote to you RMT along with TUC and other unions are still strongly campaigning against the Bill. The Bill has slightly stalled in the House of Lords with many peers ridiculing the Bill for “wasting Peers’ time” and that Government “should go back to the drawing board.”

However, the Government is still pushing ahead with this shocking Bill and the report stage in the House of Lords is set to take place this Wednesday 26 April. It will then go back to the House of Commons, with the final Commons debate probably being sometime 10-25 May but this has not been confirmed yet

On the night of the final Commons votes, the TUC is calling an Emergency Protest outside Parliament with the date to be confirmed but, like the previous Emergency Protests we have called, we’ll likely only get a week’s notice.

It is absolutely vital that we keep up the pressure against this bill so please be prepared and on-standby to urgently mobilise for an emergency protest at some point between 10-25 May and I will be in touch with more details as soon as I have them.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Lynch
General Secretary

Government threatens nurses’ strike: demonstrate at Royal Courts of Justice, 9:30am, 27 April

The government is pursuing a legal action against the upcoming planned strike by nurses’ union RCN. The legal action claims that, because RCN’s current ballot mandate expires on 2 May, the final day of their planned strike is invalid and should be cancelled.

Laws around balloting are deliberately restrictive, designed to slow down and obstruct workers’ action. RCN has called a protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice for 9:30am on Thursday 27 April, see details below. Please attend if you can.


The RCN has been notified court proceedings are going ahead on Thursday 😡

CALL OUT: Come along to a demo at the High Court 

Let’s show the government they should be negotiating, not trying to bully RCN members by trying to curtail your strikes through the courts! 

Where? Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London WC2A 2LL

When? 9.30AM onwards on Thursday 27 April

Can you make it? For more info email Emma – emma.laws@rcn.org.uk)