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Another day in Bosch’s Britain

The UK government wants to take away our right to strike

Under proposed new legislation, employers will be able to fire workers and sue trade unions

After months of industrial disputes, the Tories are planning to bring in new legislation which would severely limit the right to strike in the UK. The proposals would apply across six key sectors, including the health service, rail, education, fire and border security.

The legislation would enforce “minimum service levels”, and could potentially allow employers to sack workers and sue trade unions if a proportion of members don’t continue working. A government source told The Times“This legislation will remove the legal immunity for strikes where unions fail to implement a minimum level of service. The strikes will be illegal. Ultimately people could be fired for breach of contract.”

What these minimum service levels would look like in practice would have to be agreed between unions and the government, but ministers would have the power to impose specific levels. This would drastically reduce the bargaining power which unions can assert in their disputes against bosses, essentially making it illegal for strikes to be effective. The new legislation is also likely to make it much harder for unions to engage in strike action in the first place, doubling the mandatory notice period from 14 days to 28 and increasing the threshold of members who have to vote in favour. 

The proposed legislation has already been met with widespread condemnation. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch compared the measures to “what goes on in China and probably Russia and other repressive regimes” and suggested that they amount to an effort to “ban strikes” altogether. He added, “The right to strike is a fundamental human right. If you’re not able to do that, the employer and the Government can dictate to you what you do as a previously free individual. That’s not acceptable.” Labour MP Zarah Sultana tweeted that the proposed legislation is a “disgraceful attack on the whole working class.”

Even Keir Starmer – hardly a loyal ally to workers – has vowed that if Labour wins power then he will repeal any further restrictions. “The reason for that is that I do not think legislation is the way you bring an end to a dispute,” he said in a speech. “You’ve got to get in the room and compromise. You can’t legislate your way out of 13 years of failure.” Unions are also expected to take legal action to oppose the new measures.

However draconian these measures may be, they will do nothing to address the low wage crisis which is causing so many workers to strike in the first place. If the government goes ahead, it will have a fight on its hands.

Sign the petition to defend the right to strike here.

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