progress is not the elimination of struggle, but rather a change in its terms’ - Aneurin Bevan

a worrying attack on democratic rights

Yet again an employer has gone to the High Court to stop members of a trade union from taking industrial action. After a democratic vote, using a secret ballot, conducted by an independent organisation (the Electoral Reform Society) a majority of RMT members voted in favour of a national rail strike in a dispute over workplace safety.

Instead of allowing the democratic decision of RMT members to withdraw their labour in protest at cuts to safety inspections, Network Rail went to the High Court to get an injunction on a technicality. Following this, there has been an anti-union campaign in the media, suggesting that ballots were sent to burnt-out signal-boxes - claims designed to give people the impression that the ballot was rigged.

Now, the general secretary of the RMT is a Marmite figure, you either love him or hate him. But Bob Crow is employed by workers in rail, maritime, and transportation sectors to defend their interests at work - and trade unions are the most regulated organisations in the UK.

Which is why there has been an angry response to the suggestion by John Humphreys, presenter of the Today programme on Radio 4, that there could be suspicions about the validity of the balloting process. If he had researched the story beyond tabloid headlines, he would have known in advance of interviewing Bob Crow that the courts had invalidated the vote on a technicality - the ballot was fair.

As Labour MP John McDonnell explains:
"To hold a ballot the union must construct and supply the employer with a detailed and complex matrix of information setting out which members it is balloting, their job titles, grades, departments and work locations. The employer is under no obligation to co-operate with the union to ensure this is accurate. If there is the slightest inaccuracy, even where it did not affect the result, the ballot is open to being challenged by the employer and quashed by the courts. [...]
"The result is not fewer strikes but a deteriorating industrial relations climate as people become increasingly angry that their democratic wishes are frustrated by one-sided anti-trade-union laws."
A representative of Network Rail appeared on Channel Four News saying to say that the union should not be so quick to issue strike ballots, but before the it was announced, Network Rail bosses were not negotiating with the RMT on the safety issues. Only when the results of the strike ballot had been announced did bosses agree to talks at ACAS with the union.

What is worrying about these human rights violations is that employers are effectively given the power by law to erode terms and conditions in the workplace - with consequences for the general public.

In the context of the Network Rail dispute, fewer saftey inspections could mean that maintenance workers and the travelling public are put at greater risk of injury or death. In the case of Unite's dispute with BA, Willie Walsh has been able to use other airlines to break the strike - yet workers at those airlines would be breaking the law if they took action in solidarity with BA cabin crew and refused to cross their picket line. So a race to the bottom in terms and conditions is made possible by the anti-union laws.

How can ordinary people have faith in the legal system if it empowers bullying employers and overturns democratic decisions?

No comments:

Post a Comment