Con-Dem threats to unions

BUSINESS Secretary Vince Cable showed what the Liberal Democrats really stand for when he warned the unions that any attempt by organised labour to oppose the Coalition Government’s austerity programme would be met with even harsher anti strike laws.

“Of course, the right to strike is a fundamental principle,” he blithely told delegates at the GMB conference in Brighton this week. Then in the same breath he warned that mass industrial action would lead to more draconian anti-strike legislation. “That is something which both you, and certainly I, would wish to avoid,” he smugly said. What he meant was that while the Liberal Democrats accept the right to strike in theory they will make damn sure that every obstacle is thrown in the way of working people trying to exert their right to collective bargaining in practice.

Tory Chancellor George Osborne has made it clear that Cable was speaking for the Coalition while the employers’ federation, the CBI, is clamouring for the “modernisation” of the law on industrial relations. A Downing Street spokesperson claimed there are no current plans to change the law on the right to strike. But he added that the Government was prepared to review the position if there was a spate of “irresponsible” disputes.

Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls argues that this is a red herring designed deliberately to provoke a new row about strikes to draw public attention away from the economic crisis that has been exasperated by the Coalition’s monetarist policies. But it’s more than that. It reveals the less than hidden agenda of the Tories and their Liberal Democrat collaborators to totally strip the unions of any power they have left to represent their members over pay and conditions.

In fact strikes these days are at a historic low, largely due to the reactionary labour laws of the Thatcher era that ban solidarity and secondary actions and impose balloting constraints designed to strengthen the employers’ hand at every stage of the bargaining process. In the private sector the number of days lost to strike action has, over the past five years, been running at roughly half the levels of the previous five-year period — and it again fell sharply last year. In the public sector the number of days lost due to industrial action has fallen in each of the past three years.

What does concern Cameron and his Liberal Democrat allies is the mobilisation of civil service and educational workers for a co-ordinated strike on 30th June in defence of their pension rights. This, they fear, may trigger even greater resistance, from the rank-and-file as well as the big guns in the TUC, against the Coalition’s monstrous cuts programme that threatens the very fabric of our social services.

Cable was jeered and booed by GMB delegates and his speech has been denounced as insulting and provocative by senior figures throughout the union movement as a whole. But rhetoric and verbal abuse will not deter Cameron & Co from pushing through their anti-working class programme that is intended to make working people pay entirely for the capitalist crisis we’re in today.

The British trade union movement was built on defiance that eventually smashed the Victorian master and servant laws to win the right to the free collective bargaining we had until 1979. Mass support for the call for action on 30th June followed by a co-ordinated campaign by all the unions to resist the onslaught on our standard of living and social services must be the only response to Cameron and his cohorts.