Opinion: further curbs on unions are wrong and counterproductive

As someone who has been a trade union member since the age of 16 and a representative for almost as long I follow with interest any new developments in industrial relations in our country.

Employment law has been transformed over the past 25 years to the extent that is now very difficult for unions to organise lawful industrial action.

I believe Britain now has the most restrictive labour laws in Western Europe.

Not content with the status quo the Tory right are now agitating for even more restrictions, the principle one being that any ballot for action has to have at least a 50% turnout to be legal.

Aside from the fact that it is a nonsense to apply a threshold that applies nowhere else. If it did then very few local councillors would be elected for example.

A further legal restriction would not resolve the original dispute. You have only to look at the BA dispute to see that court action to render ballots illegal on technicalities just prolongs dispute.

My personal involvement in strikes mainly in the post office supposedly the most militant set of workers taught me many things but one overriding feature was that nobody withdraws their labour without having a very
good reason.

Every strike I have been involved in occurred because management left the workforce no option by taking action rather than attempting meaningful negotiation.

Working people must have a right to strike in a free society and liberals must be vocal in defending that freedom.

However we are also concensus politicians by nature who prefer talking through an issue so a compromise can be reached.

So my proposal to the decision makers is if you want to prevent strikes strengthen the role of concilliation and arbitration.

Give a bigger role to organisations like ACAS, encourage greater employee participation through things like works councils.

If you give that a try you might actually find that the vast majority of grievances are resolved without strike action even being considered let alone taken.

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in News.
Advert

30 Comments

  • Warren Swaine 10th Feb '11 - 12:21pm

    Fully agree Dave.

  • @Douglas I am not a defender of every action unions or their members take.

    My message is lets put more effort into resolving disputes through discussion
    than confrontation.

    Once strike action begins it leads to emotions running high amongst all those
    involved which leaves bitterness even after their is a resolution.

    Yes there should be ballots but the current law is complex and designed to make
    it very difficult to have a legal dispute.

  • Continuing the old tradition, modern-day unions are condemning themselves by their own actions and neither need nor deserve support from liberals.

    I have seen personally this year in local government a union rep negotiate to improve the rights of a few (unionised) full-time employees at the direct expense of many (non-unionised) part-time workers, who will now lose their jobs. This disgusts me deeply and has nothing to do with any kind of liberalism.

    If a union cannot prove even a majority of membership turnout, let alone a majority in support, of strike action, it goes the same way: a minority forcing their will over a majority. This is the antithesis of liberalism and we should recognise it as such.

  • I am proud to have been in a trade union for many years, although not in any official capacity. It seems to me that the contributors to this site have not the faintest idea what it is like to have to deal with a dishonest employer. I, like David, have been in several disputes – the longest that I was “properly” on strike was for five-and-a-half weeks. Strikes are not picnics, and believe me or not, nobody wants to go on strike, however if you have a employer who thinks he can engineer a dispute for his own ends, then eventually you have to accept being treated shoddily – or walk out of the door. I am very proud that the biggest dispute I was involved in we (the workforce) won. The boss soon became the ex-boss and eventually found his way to prison (for trying to short change the tax authorities of a foreign country). I would recommend that LibDems/Tories who probably have no first-hand experience of industrial disputes should listen and learn from those people who have – David Warren for example.

  • Dave Warren 10th Feb '11 - 3:11pm

    @Andrew @Jim

    Historically liberals have advocated co-operation between management and workers
    to reaolve differences.

    My article is advocating a form of this principle.

    Trade unions need to modernise and i think a lot of their leaders would get found out if
    they had to discuss issues rather than threathen strikes.

    Disputes like the one in BA will only get resolved satisfactorily by concilliation and negotiation.

    The other issue which needs addressing is this link to Labour.

  • I find it so hypocritical to read Tories arguing that strikes must meet a minimum requirement for them to be legitimate, especially 50%. What government has ever achieved that mandate? The Tories got elected on 23% percent of the possible vote – even adding Lib Dem vote, presuming they agree with this, is still just 38%…and they’re requiring 50%?!

    The Tories can get away with this horrid attack on worker’s rights, but can the Lib Dems?

  • The problem is that the LibDems have abandoned the workers as evidenced by the change from 12 to 24 months before an unfair dismissal case can be taken to an Employment Tribunal.

    This is a horrendous attack on all UK workers and supported by the new blue LibDem Tory supporters. So I’m afraid that just like tuition fees no one will trust the LibDems any more when they say they will protect workers against lousy employers.

    And Dave – do you think employers aren’t clever and evil enough to be using phone-ins to attack strikers by using bogus ’employees’ to attack strikers.

  • Lee_Thacker 10th Feb '11 - 6:47pm

    As far as I can rember there was nothing in the coalition agreement about restricting trade union rights. If the Conservatives wants to restrict the rights of workers Lib Dem MPs should tell them to get lost.

  • John Fraser 10th Feb '11 - 7:00pm

    @Jim Wright
    If a union cannot prove even a majority of membership turnout, let alone a majority in support, of strike action, it goes the same way: a minority forcing their will over a majority. This is the antithesis of liberalism and we should recognise it as such.

    I can see by your logic Jim that you arein favour of having the Labour amandment on the AV referendum. If the electoral reformers cant even get a majority to vote they surely dont deserve the reform…. doesn’t it seem a rather silly argument when put like that ?

  • Stuart Mitchell 10th Feb '11 - 7:16pm

    The right to strike is one of our most precious civil liberties (and many people did of course die for it). If the Lib Dems can get all worked up about the rights of suspected terrorists to surf the web, and prisoners to vote, then we can surely expect them to stand up and tell the Tories what to do with their anti-strike plans… can’t we?

  • Stuart Mitchell 10th Feb '11 - 7:22pm

    Jim Wright:

    “I have seen personally this year in local government a union rep negotiate to improve the rights of a few (unionised) full-time employees at the direct expense of many (non-unionised) part-time workers, who will now lose their jobs. This disgusts me deeply and has nothing to do with any kind of liberalism.”

    Let’s crush the unions then so that employers can treat ALL their workers like dirt without fear of resistance.

    “If a union cannot prove even a majority of membership turnout, let alone a majority in support, of strike action, it goes the same way: a minority forcing their will over a majority.”

    That may have been the case 25 years ago but it isn’t so today. Strikes are a common occurrence at my place of work. Some I join, some I don’t. Nobody seems to mind too much.

  • I am a union member and greatful for it.

    However, the big problem with our largest unions is their umbilical link to the Labour Party. Similar to the business support of the Tories.

    Unions would have far more public support if they were seen solely as representative groups to ensure fair play in the work force. Their funding of one political party when their members will have agreater diversity of views, and the political posturing of some of their leaders, do them a great disservice.

  • Ed The Snapper 10th Feb '11 - 10:25pm

    I am a union member and grateful for the support it can give me in difficult times. I have never been on strike and cannot see myself voting for a strike except in extreme circumstances. But the problem for Dave Warren is that he has now joined a political party that is propping up a Tory party that is aggresively opposed to rights for workers. His party leaders supoort further restrictions on workers rights because they are now so closely linked to the Tory party. The MP’s in his party support further erosion of workers’ rights such as are pointed out by Eco John above. We continue to live in times of mass unemployment and underemployment. I cannot blame workers for fighting for their jobs. The answer for the non-union workers who were made redundant by their local council is that they should have organised together to fight for their rights. Perhaps they bought into the line I have seen so many misguided workers advocate: “if I just keep quiet and follow the rules, the managers will leave me alone”. A majority turnout required for a strike? How about the same idea for electing a government?

  • Andrew Suffield 11th Feb '11 - 12:57am

    My personal involvement in strikes mainly in the post office supposedly the most militant set of workers taught me many things but one overriding feature was that nobody withdraws their labour without having a very
    good reason.

    And in many cases you’re right. The problem here, which is causing all this Tory agitation, is that recently Labour has organised a series of strikes in London for no purpose other than to lash out at the government (especially the Tube strikes, which have been rather transparently political, with the union refusing to negotiate at all). In each case they did it with a ballot that most union members didn’t care about and didn’t bother to vote in.

    I’m not impressed by the “50% turnout” proposals, and I’d like to see a far less overbearing solution. Unfortunately I don’t have any good ideas, and the problem needs addressing. Political parties must not be allowed to manipulate unions in this way, since it defeats the whole purpose of their existence. A union which is slavishly serving a political party is not representing its members.

  • Ed The Snapper 11th Feb '11 - 7:18am

    But strikes are not organised by political parties. They are organised by workers. Workers who make up their mind whether to strike or not. It says a lot that “liberals” who claim to oppose “the tyranny of the state” are so keen to allow the state to prevent workers organising themselves or having a say in how their industries are run.

  • Andrew Suffield 11th Feb '11 - 7:32am

    But strikes are not organised by political parties.

    Usually. But we’ve had a couple of very distinctive ones that were, and it has to stop.

    Workers who make up their mind whether to strike or not.

    If 90 people throw the ballot paper in the bin and 10 vote to strike, have they really made a decision?

    It says a lot that “liberals” who claim to oppose “the tyranny of the state” are so keen to allow the state to prevent workers organising themselves or having a say in how their industries are run.

    Your post indicates that you understand the problem stated is unions being controlled by political parties instead of the workers, so this sentence is a shameless lie. This kind of party political interference is the exact opposite of workers having a say in how their industries are run, which is precisely why it has got to be stopped.

  • Dave Warren 11th Feb '11 - 9:08am

    Thanks for all the comments lets hope we can have a wider
    one in future about industrial democracy.

    All those who want fairness should support the idea that working
    together to achieve common goals is a good idea.

    Whatever the employer both management and workers have an
    interest in its success.

  • @Dave Warren

    Well done on posting on an important but relatively rare and unpopulat topic on LDV. You can see from the responses that there is a deep anti union strand within the Lib Dems. Fits well with the new right of centre postioning reported in today’s Indy.

  • Alex KN

    The Indy article is about dead-centre positioning not “right of centre”.

    And it’s not “anti-Union” either. What I and, I suspect others, object to, is the hi-jacking of legitimate worker’s greivances by a minority of Union leaderships that are politically motivated.

    I have no problem with workers organising collectively to bargain for better pay and conditions. What I do have a problem with is the likes of Mr Crowe trying to further his hard-left political views by using the workers he is supposed to represent as pawns.

  • @Tabman
    “Unions would have far more public support if they were seen solely as representative groups to ensure fair play in the work force. Their funding of one political party when their members will have agreater diversity of views, and the political posturing of some of their leaders, do them a great disservice.”

    I could be wrong but don’t individual members now have the right to opt in or out of the political donations?

    “What I do have a problem with is the likes of Mr Crowe trying to further his hard-left political views by using the workers he is supposed to represent as pawns.”

    Totally agree with you here.

    @Andrew Suffield
    “Labour has organised a series of strikes in London for no purpose other than to lash out at the government (especially the Tube strikes, which have been rather transparently political, with the union refusing to negotiate at all).”

    Not sure you picked the right example as the Tube workers also held strikes under Labour. I also think you are wrong on the amount of influence Labour has over unions. The Unions have far more influence over Labour than vice versa. Just look at the problems over the last 13 years that the government of the day could have done without. Labour may like to think the link goes both ways but evidence shows it doesn’t.

  • Steve Way:

    “I could be wrong but don’t individual members now have the right to opt in or out of the political donations?”

    I think you’re right, but there’s still asymmetry in that AFIUI Unions only ever donate to Labour.

    And FWIW I also object to businesses donating to political parties (mostly the Tories, but also Labour and us) too. Donations should only be made by citizens on the electoral role and capped at a limit of say £5k per person per annum.

    “I also think you are wrong on the amount of influence Labour has over unions. The Unions have far more influence over Labour than vice versa. Just look at the problems over the last 13 years that the government of the day could have done without. Labour may like to think the link goes both ways but evidence shows it doesn’t.”

    Agree. Look at the rise without trace of Ed Milliband.

  • nobody withdraws their labour without having a very good reason.

    I am a union member, and to me the RMT look more like a vested interest that periodically holds London to ransom than a band of heroic oppressed freedom fighters.

  • @ Andrew Suffield “The problem here, which is causing all this Tory agitation, is that recently Labour has organised a series of strikes in London for no purpose other than to lash out at the government (especially the Tube strikes, which have been rather transparently political, with the union refusing to negotiate at all). ”

    The Labour party kicked the RMT out quite a few years ago, so exactly how on earth do you figure the RMT are striking in the name of Labour?

  • Paul McKeown 11th Feb '11 - 11:54pm

    David Warren,

    Thanks for the article – and pretty much agree with it.

    Trades Unions are important vehicles for democratic expression and for ensuring the rights of individuals against the abuse of commercial or civil power. Every democratic society should welcome them. However, there is a flipside, which is that unions themselves can become unrepresentative vested interests or be hijacked for political ends.

    Ultimately, I would recommend that the government should show forbearance in the face of any unreasonable behaviour from the unions: misbehaving unions will only succeed in making themselves (and, by extension, the Labour Party) unpopular if they attempt to abuse the public will. Like Alan Johnson said, only a few months ago, no one wants to see the return of the finger jabbers. Wise old bird, Alan Johnson.

    There would have to be an overwhelming powerful reason were there to be any move to extend further regulation of the Trades Unions. As it is they are very heavily regulated.

    The Trades Unions need to challenge themselves to become relevant to more people: they have been in decline for decades. Perhaps they might even consider helping small business owners, who in these straitened times often find themselves prey to the untender unmercies of large corporations. Revolutionary idea, I know. Just throwing something in the mix. Also making a clean separation from politics, concentrating instead on defending the rights of workers. And even taking up the rights of non-unionised workers, who, sadly, sometimes find themselves stitched up by deals for unionised workers between commercial concerns and unions.

  • Ed The Snapper 12th Feb '11 - 8:41am

    I will stick to relying on my union to help me in troubled times. The responses of many contributors to LDV shows that workers can expect no help from the ConDem government. I still do not understand how “liberals” who complain about the “tyranny of the state” can support restrictions on how workers decide to organise themselves. It is up to me to decide whether I join a union and who I vote for. Any non-unionised worker who feels that they are losing out has the very simple solution of joining (or forming) a union. I still want to see proof that any political party in Britain is organising strikes. There were strikes under the last government. Should I assume that those stikes were organised by the Tory Party?

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • Simon R
    @Phil Beesley - as I understand it, the ICO are stepping in to investigate whether data security laws are being complied with - and that seems to me a reasonabl...
  • William Francis
    @Michael BG As a matter of fact, I have: https://www.justliberals.org.uk/ownership-for-all/ I am currently writing one going into far greater detail thou...
  • FS People
    Peter Martin "What would be your choice of a term to replace ‘neoliberal’?" You have skipped a question. The first question that needs to be asked is:...
  • James
    I’m a member of the Labour Party, so maybe it’s none of my business commenting here, but I didn’t view the decision by your party to stand candidates as i...
  • Lorenzo Cherin
    For james Fowler https://www.libdemvoice.org/boris-booster-63751.html...