SEVEN Labour MPs and leading union bosses are backing a campaign to give workers the right to strike in support of political protest movements like Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion.
Claiming current laws are a barrier to health and safety during the pandemic, the Free Our Unions campaign wants to tear up existing laws curbing strike action and expand union power to protest.
The campaign calls for an end to the ban on workers’ walkouts in support of political protest movements.
It comes after tens of thousands of US workers staged a one day walkout in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US. The 24 hour Strike for Black Lives took place in 25 cities across the States.
Signing up to the Free Our Unions campaign in what is called a “personal capacity” are seven Labour MPs: Nadia Whittome, Apsana Begum, Clive Lewis, Claudia Webbe, Ian Byrne, Mick Whitley and Bell Ribeiro-Addy.
Michelle Rodgers, president of the RMT transport union, Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union and Sarah Woolley, general secretary of the BFAWU, which represents workers in the food industry, and its president Ian Hodson, have also backed the campaign.
Three of the four candidates vying to take over as general secretary of Britain’s biggest union, Unison, have also signed up: Roger McKenzie, Hugo Pierre and Paul Holmes.
John Moloney, the assistant general secretary of the civil service PCS union, along with three members of its ruling NEC group have also backed the move together with seven members of the ruling body for the NEU teachers’ union.
Launching the campaign, co-ordinator and RMT official Daniel Randall said: “The lengthy notice periods and bureaucratic hurdles placed in front of unions are designed to slow us down and prevent us from using industrial action as an immediate response to workplace issues, and from asserting our own demands.”
And he branded the political ban on strike action as “one of the most significant brakes on democratic action in Britain today”.
He asks: “How much more powerful would the Black Lives Matter struggle and movements against climate change be if they could call on the power of strikes and other industrial action as well as marches and rallies?”
The FoU statement declares:
“We will need the maximum legal and effective freedom for our movement to resist, including an unimpeded right to strike.
“Both the Black Lives Matter struggle and the ongoing climate crisis are highlighting the need for a right to take action over wider issues than only wages, terms and conditions. Workers need the right to strike as an instrument of political protest and social solidarity.
“We therefore commit to fighting for repeal of all the anti-union laws and their replacement with strong legal rights for workers and unions, including strong rights to strike and picket.”
Ian Austin, chairman of Mainstream UK, said:
“Britain is facing an incredibly tough few months with the country in the grips of a public health crisis and in a deep recession. Millions of families are worried about their livelihoods and the Government is having to bailout thousands of Covid-hit businesses to prevent mass redundancies.
“This should be a time when we all work together to protect jobs and save lives – not choose to play pandemic politics and throw your weight around because you don’t like the politics of the people in power.
“Responsible politicians and union leaders should be looking for solutions at this time not trying to sow yet more division.”
At the TUC conference last month delegates adopted a resolution calling for renewed campaigning to strengthen union power.
The Motion 39 branded the Conservative government “a renewed threat to the pay, jobs and working conditions of workers as well as trade union rights”.
It added: “No union or unions must be allowed to fight alone – if any union is targeted by anti-union laws, all others must come to their aid, supporting any action they deem necessary.”
In Britain strike action is only legal if notice is given of a ballot for strike action and at least half of the balloted workers have voted.
In industries performing an “important public service” at least 40 per cent of those balloted must support strike action. Under current Government plans all-out rail strikes would be banned, because of the importance of the industry to the UK economy.
Since 2016 more than 160 days of strikes have taken place or are planned on the network, hitting 11 of the country’s 17 franchises. New minimum service agreements would set out in advance the number and nature of staff who would have to stay at work during any strike.
In Wales the Assembly Government sparked a political row by suggesting businesses taking support grants during the pandemic should become unionised.
In a letter highlighting the Economic Resilience Fund, Ken Skates, Minister for Economy and Transport, said: “Every worker has a legal right to join a trade union, and we expect employers who receive public funds to allow trade unions access and seek a recognition agreement where workers request it.”
Darren Millar, Shadow Minister for Tourism and Covid Recovery, said the Labour led Welsh Government was “bullying businesses”.