Judges issue another attack on workers

Simon Basketter reports:

The anti-union laws are being extended by default and we are moving towards a situation where it will be virtually impossible to organise legal strikes.

At the beginning of the month the Court of Appeal ruled in a case that has significant consequences for every worker.

Judges ruled in favour of Metrobus, which had secured a legal injunction against a planned strike by Unite members in October last year. The union called off the strike in response.

This ruling had a knock-on effect on another group of workers last week.

Unite union officials called off a planned strike by bus drivers at First in South Yorkshire—not because there was any challenge to their own ballot but purely on the basis of this Court of Appeal ruling.

The judgement in favour of the employer can be referred to by judges in future cases. It sets a precedent that will make it more difficult for workers to take legal strike action.

One of the reasons the company won the injunction was because a judge found that the union had not detailed with sufficient precision the occupational grades of those taking action.

The same manoeuvre has recently been used against postal and tube workers.

The anti-union laws were designed to hamper unions’ ability to resist, and to give union leaders a way of persuading their members not to strike.

All these laws should go. But instead of being repealed, they are being interpreted ever more harshly. The laws detail a thicket of obstacles that the unions have to navigate to avoid being sued during a strike.

One clause says that unions have to give the employers a list of workers who are going on strike and their workplaces.

Unions must also sort workers into their occupational categories. Such requirements are ideal for employers who want to use technicalities to halt strikes.

The Metrobus appeal case shows how these laws work.

The union argued, “Unite takes the view that the grounds on which the judge decided to grant the injunction constitute a serious impediment on its ability and that of any other trade union to call a strike.”

In response Lord Justice Maurice Kay wrote, “The right to strike has never been much more than a slogan or legal metaphor.”

There were two main elements to the court’s decision.

Firstly, although the strike ballot had closed at noon on 1 September, Unite informed Metrobus bosses of the outcome almost 48 hours later.

In part this was due to a mix-up between Unite and Electoral Reform Services involving a missing fax.

But the court ruled that the time taken to inform the employer was too long.

The judgement reads, “Sec 231 imposes on the union a free-standing obligation to notify the employer of the outcome of the ballot as soon as reasonably practicable; that obligation must be fulfilled, regardless of whether strike action is or is not voted for.”

And importantly, “Notice of strike action can only ever come after notice of the ballot result to the employer.”

Secondly, the court ruled that the union did not properly explain how it arrived at its membership figures for how many bus drivers would be called out from which depots.

The three Court of Appeal judges disagreed about how the legislation applied, but they still ruled that insufficient explanation was given.

The judgement read, “Information about the numbers of employees balloted—what categories they fall into in terms of what job they do, where they work, etc, for union members who may or may not pay their union dues by deduction from salary (whereby the employer can know they are union members) – is provided to the employer, and such information must also include full explanations of how such figures are reached. The figures must also be accurate.”

In effect, legal ballots become almost impossible to organise. Working out all the grades of construction workers or local government workers, for instance, would be completely unfeasible.

The only point on which the majority in the court disagreed with the original injunction was over the importance of a typing error—766 instead of 776. It ruled that this was trivial.

Furthermore, the court also ruled that the anti-union laws are compatible with the article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the right to join a trade union.

When Labour was elected in 1997 it had a policy of repealing the anti-union laws. But 12 years later it is sitting on its hands while the laws are applied ever more stringently against workers.

The anti-union laws fly in the face of the democratic decisions of thousands of workers. Unless the laws are challenged, no union could survive the level of detailed scrutiny now imposed on ballots.

But a recent spate of unofficial walkouts and occupations has shown that anti-union laws are powerless if workers defy them.

The only way to win is for unions to refuse to back down in the face of injunctions and threats and strike regardless.

The right to withdraw labour by striking is the most fundamental power that workers have. We must fight urgently to defend that right.

Brave Vestas workers are sacked – but the fight goes on

For over a week now Vestas workers on the Isle of Wight have occupied their employer’s offices in an effort to stop the factory closing and their jobs being shipped overseas.

A workforce that wasn’t unionised, that had no experience of such a campaign, have shown how workers in England can struggle and gain support nationally (from many trade unions and environmental activist groups) and internationally (South Korean workers in the same situation have sent solidarity greetings).

These workers have now been sacked.

We need to show the government and Vestas how much this annoys us.

Our brothers and sisters in Scotland had 20,000 people marching in Kilmarnock last Sunday to protest job losses at profitable Diageo’s Johnnie Walker plants.

We can do the same for the Vestas workers!

Socialist Worker reports:

The workers have released a statement, which was read out at the protest outside the plant this evening. They said, “We all received letters to tell us that we had been sacked with no redundancy money. This has not deterred us in any way. We are now fighting for everyone else. Come to the court tomorrow. Bring your friends and family, and spread the word.”

Steve, one of the occupation’s stewards, read management’s letter to the rally. It stated that the workers had been sacked for “gross misconduct” as a result of their industrial action.

Steve said, “We will fight this all the way. We will not rest until the workers get what is rightfully theirs. They have fought for all of us. We will show the world that they are heroes.

“We have one message for the Vestas management: ‘We are here to stay.’ Please come to the court tomorrow. We will be putting on a show of strength there to show that workers in the Isle of Wight will not roll over.”

Unison witchhunt continues

Note to Unison leadership – the organization is a trade union, not branch of the Labour Party. Harassing Trotskyists will not endear you to the membership.

The first charge against the four Unison members (pictured below) is that they produced a leaflet at the annual conference of Unison in 2007 which questioned why the Standing Orders Committee had ruled out key motions from being debated. Simply highlighting this on a leaflet resulted in the first charge of an “attack on the integrity of the members of the Standing Orders Committee.”

Glenn Kelly, one of the four, Branch Secretary of Bromley Unison and Unison national executive, addresses the Reclaim the Union fringe meeting at Unison conference 2009, photo Paul Mattsson

Glenn Kelly, one of the four, Branch Secretary of Bromley Unison and Unison national executive, addresses the Reclaim the Union fringe meeting at Unison conference 2009, photo Paul Mattsson

The second charge relates to the use on the leaflet of a well known Buddhist proverb and cartoon of the ‘three wise monkeys’ (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.)

The four have been charged with “Failing to show due care in not anticipating that someone might take offence [from the leaflet]“.

On 17 July Unison’s disciplinary panel delivered their verdict and then scuttled off to consider the sentence. The result should be known in a couple of weeks.

Onay Kasab, another of the four charged, is Branch Secretary Greenwich Unison. Here he addresses the Socialist Party fringe meeting at Unison conference 2009, photo Paul Mattsson

Onay Kasab, another of the four charged, is Branch Secretary Greenwich Unison. Here he addresses the Socialist Party fringe meeting at Unison conference 2009, photo Paul Mattsson

The attacks on the four Unison members found guilty have nothing to do with these trumped up charges and everything to do with eliminating any opposition to the Unison leadership – and specifically any opposition from the Socialist Party which the four are members of. Five Unison members were originally investigated but charges against the member who was not in the Socialist Party were dropped!

Socialist Party members in Unison have consistently argued that the Unison leadership should put their members before the interests of New Labour, who receive huge sums of trade union money but then attack public sector workers, many of whom who are members of Unison.

Suzanne Muna, Branch Secretary Unison Tenant Services Authority, and another charged, speaks to the lobby of Unison disciplinary hearings against the four Socialist Party members, photo Alison Hill

Suzanne Muna, Branch Secretary Unison Tenant Services Authority, and another charged, speaks to the lobby of Unison disciplinary hearings against the four Socialist Party members, photo Alison Hill

This is a classic witch-hunt. Some Unison members have already been expelled and others are under investigation for opposing the leadership.

The two-year investigation and hearings into the four Socialist Party members now found guilty have caused widespread anger towards the Unison leadership. The Defend the Four campaign has attracted huge support within Unison and the wider trade union movement.

Brian Debus, Branch Chair Hackney Unison, the fourth Socialist Party member charged, addresses Unison conference 2009, photo Paul Mattsson

Brian Debus, Branch Chair Hackney Unison, the fourth Socialist Party member charged, addresses Unison conference 2009, photo Paul Mattsson

All supporters of the four are called on to flood Unison headquarters with protests against this blatant witch-hunt. The charge of racism in particular, no matter how its framed, could not only jeopardise their union membership but also their employment chances.

This witch-hunt is a disgrace to the trade union movement. All four have a long and proud record of fighting racism and fascism in the workplace and the wider community.

Send your protests now to Unison HQ: Unison, 1 Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9AJ . Telephone: 0845 355 0845

e-mail: d.prentis@unison.co.uk

Also send to: Defend the Four Campaign, PO Box 858 London E11 1YG.

See also: www.stopthewitchhunt.org.uk

Just another cog in the machine?

h/t: John Gray

Rail for the people – or Brian Souter?

That’s the question. Should we have public transport or a subsidised cash-cow for a man made wealthy by the state?

RAIL UNION RMT today stepped up their pressure on the government to remove National Express from their rail franchises as new research shows that the company has made nearly half a billion pounds in profits from their rail operations in the past 10 years while sucking in nearly £2.5 billion in public subsidy over the same period.

Just under two weeks ago Transport Secretary Lord Adonis announced that he was taking the failed National Express franchise on East Coast Mainline back into public ownership. Since then, the company have made bullish noises that they will fight to retain the rights to run the service and have also thrown down a gauntlet to the government over National Express East Anglia and c2c which they should be stripped of under the “cross-default” clause.

Today, Tuesday July 14, a parliamentary adjournment debate will take place under the title Rail Services on the East Coast Mainline led by York MP Hugh Bayley where a growing number of MP’s will be applying pressure on ministers for National Express to be stripped of their rail franchises.

Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, said today:

“It’s now two weeks since the government announced that they would be taking decisive action over National Express on the East Coast and we are stepping up the pressure for the company to be dumped as a matter of urgency and for their franchises to be nationalised on a permanent basis, not as a short term, crisis measure.

“National Express have been taking us all for a ride. Not only have they milked the best part of half a billion pounds out of their rail operations but they have sucked in £2.5 billion in public subsidies in the process.

“Now National Express are leaving a potential rail funding gap of £1 billion behind after their chaotic performance on the East Coast Mainline and once again it’s the travelling public and rail workers who are left to pick up the pieces. National Express, along with the rest of the rail privateers, should be kicked off the tracks for good.”

I’d go further than Bob – I’d like to see the privateers prosecuted for their theivery.

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