Unite has vowed to meet attacks on the right to strike with ‘fierce, prolonged resistance’ after Tory leadership contender Liz Truss announced this week plans to force through reforms to already repressive trade union laws if she were to become prime minister.
Unite has said such moves amount to an all-out ‘declaration of war’ on the trade union movement.
Truss, who is currently polling as the favourite to win the Tory leadership contest, pledged that she would raise voting thresholds on all strike ballots so that at least 50 per cent of the entire workforce must vote ‘yes’ for a strike to legally go ahead.
She has vowed to bring in the changes within 30 days of her election.
Currently, the threshold for legal strike action is a simple 50 per cent turnout, while in ‘important public services’ such as the NHS, an additional threshold of a 40 per cent ‘yes’ vote is imposed. Truss’ proposed thresholds would severely curtail the right to strike, Unite has warned.
Truss also vowed to place limits on the number of times workers can go on strike within six months of a strike ballot, and said she would moreover increase the strike notice period from two to four weeks.
In a further assault on the right to strike, Truss proposed a sinister raid on union strike funds by vowing to put an end to tax-free strike payments to workers when they are out on strike.
Unite’s £50m-strong strike fund has been used in recent months to help workers taken on some of the richest but poorest-paying employers in the land. Any assault on the fund will be seen across the trade union movement as a boon to bad bosses and an effort to starve workers back to work.
Commenting, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “Let’s be clear — Liz Truss’ mad-cap proposals are an attempt to outlaw strike action and effective trade unions. This so-called manifesto is a declaration of war on the trade union movement and working people. In effect, it is a charter for massive social discontent.
“What we have here is an ambitious politician, hawking for the votes of a tiny minority by putting the rights of all workers on the chopping block,” she added. “At the time of a cost of living crisis, where profiteering not wages are driving inflation, this would-be Prime Minister has instead chosen to return Britain’s workplaces to the 19th century. It’s Charles Dickens meets 2022.
“Unite will not bow to threats and bullying and any attempt to make our fight for the jobs pay and conditions illegal, will be met with fierce, prolonged resistance.”
Both Truss and her rival, former chancellor Rishi Sunak, said they would introduce ‘minimum service levels’ during strikes affecting national infrastructure such as railways. In practice, this would amount to an effective ban on such strikes.
Unite acting legal director Stephen Pinder highlighted Unite’s view on Truss’ proposals from a legal perspective.
“Liz Truss is proposing substantial legal changes which seek to undermine the rights of union members to take industrial action, and her new laws would be unenforceable and very likely to lead Unite to challenge the new laws through the courts,” he told UniteLive.
“Trade unions in the UK already need to comply with the strictest legal standards when organising industrial action, and to seek to make the process even more difficult would put the UK at odds with its international labour obligations,” Pinder added.
Unite has also highlighted that Truss’ plans for sweeping reform of British trade union laws – which are already among the most restrictive in the developed world – have no mandate, as they are not outlined in the Tory manifesto.
Unite has said Truss’ plans are nothing more than pandering to an infinitesimally small minority – the mere 160,000 Tory party members who will be eligible to vote in the upcoming leadership contest.
Liz Truss is especially well-equipped to pander to this minority – a decade ago, she set out her hard-right credentials as one of the authors of Britannia Unchained, which derided UK workers but heaped praise on the aggressive free market.
Such pandering, Unite believes, is dangerous and fails to reflect the views of the wider electorate at a time when public support for industrial action has grown across the political spectrum.
In a poll last month, a strong majority, nearly 60 per cent, of respondents said they believed recent rail strikes were ‘justified’, and even a significant percentage of Tory voters – nearly 40 per cent – likewise agreed the strikes were justified.
By Hajera Blagg