David Cameron went all out at his first cabinet meeting this month to portray the Conservative party as the ‘real party of working people’. Yet the first act of this government, shown in the queen’s speech, is to restrict the rights of working people and bring in the most regressive union laws in Europe. This is true blue, not blue collar.
I say it is not on the side of working people to threaten the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union, or to abolish the Human Rights Act. Most of all, it is without doubt against working people to deny them action when they face job insecurity, weaker terms and conditions, or lower pay.
Under these new laws, strikes affecting health, transport, fire services or schools would have to be supported by 40 per cent of union members and for all other sectors, industrial action ballots would be required to return a 50 per cent response of all eligible union members.
At Community, we believe that the right to strike should be used as a last resort. Working in constructive partnerships with good employers to negotiate terms and conditions is always preferable. It means that the employer is more likely to be upfront about their thinking and have open discussions with us. It means we are round the table to negotiate change in the best interests of our members.
But there are always occasions when an employer refuses to negotiate further or simply tries to impose its will and we have no option but to ballot our members for industrial action.
It is those employers that will benefit from these new laws. Not the ones that already treat their staff well or employ decent and fair terms and conditions, but the ones who get away with it. The bad employers will exploit these new laws to get away with even more.
And on those occasions, when there is no other option than to withdraw labour, when our members are otherwise powerless and in some cases potentially jobless, it is our legitimate right to do so.
These back door moves are despite trade unions calling for measures to enable us to return higher turnouts. The trade union movement has for many years called for electronic voting. The Tories do not want greater participation as they say. If they did they would allow us to modernise and update the way union members can express their views.
The Tories should not be allowed to dominate the discussion on what is ‘legitimate’, particularly when they do not even reach the thresholds themselves that they are enforcing on the working public. They won 37 per cent of votes cast, but only 26 per cent of registered voters. Who then is illegitimate? That is a double standard that people should not stand for.