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 But instead of being repealed, they are being interpreted ever more harshly.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.

Police state in the UK?

A former securocrat issues a warning:

Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, has warned that the fear of terrorism is being exploited by the Government to erode civil liberties and risks creating a police state.

Dame Stella accused ministers of interfering with people’s privacy and playing straight into the hands of terrorists.

“Since I have retired I feel more at liberty to be against certain decisions of the Government, especially the attempt to pass laws which interfere with people’s privacy,” Dame Stella said in an interview with a Spanish newspaper.

“It would be better that the Government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state,” she said.

But wait – there’s more! International criticism now:

In a further blow to ministers, an international study by lawyers and judges accused countries such as Britain and America of “actively undermining” the law through the measures they have introduced to counter terrorism.

The report, by the International Commission of Jurists, said: “The failure of states to comply with their legal duties is creating a dangerous situation wherein terrorism, and the fear of terrorism, are undermining basic principles of international human rights law.”

The report claimed many measures introduced were illegal and counter-productive and that legal systems put in place after the Second World War were well equipped to handle current threats. Arthur Chaskelson, the chairman of the report panel, said: “In the course of this inquiry, we have been shocked by the damage done over the past seven years by excessive or abusive counter-terrorism measures in a wide range of countries around the world.

“Many governments, ignoring the lessons of history, have allowed themselves to be rushed into hasty responses to terrorism that have undermined cherished values and violated human rights.’’

These warnings aren’t being heeded. In fact the nebulous category of “extremist” is to be broadened:

The government is considering plans that would lead to thousands more British Muslims being branded as extremists, the Guardian has learned. The proposals are in a counterterrorism strategy which ministers and security officials are drawing up that is due to be unveiled next month.

Some say the plans would see views held by most Muslims in Britain being classed by the government as extreme.

According to a draft of the strategy, Contest 2 as it is known in Whitehall, people would be considered as extremists if:

• They advocate a caliphate, a pan-Islamic state encompassing many countries.

• They promote Sharia law.

• They believe in jihad, or armed resistance, anywhere in the world. This would include armed resistance by Palestinians against the Israeli military.

• They argue that Islam bans homosexuality and that it is a sin against Allah.

• They fail to condemn the killing of British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Contest 2 would widen the definition of extremists to those who hold views that clash with what the government defines as shared British values. Those who advocate the wider definition say hardline Islamist interpretation of the Qur’an leads to views that are the root cause of the terrorism threat Britain faces. But opponents say the strategy would brand the vast majority of British Muslims as extremists and alienate them even further.

This counter-terrorism “mission creep” into the realm of politics is worrying. Not least because it will be counter-productive.

If the government truly wanted to tackle violent extremism it would pull our armed forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

This would also be a hugely popular move – most especially for military families who are seeing their loved ones killed and injured in conflicts that can only make us less safe.

UK govt terrorising free speech and civil liberties, says UN

Given that the government has just revealed that the DNA of forty thousand innocent children is stored on a national database, this is a timely report.

From The Morning Star:

PEACE campaigners called for the repeal of anti-terror laws on Friday after a damning United Nations report warned that Britain’s terror laws were having a “chilling effect” on free speech and civil liberties.

The UN committee on human rights warned that provisions under the Terrorism Act 2006 covering encouragement of terrorism are too “broad and vague” and should be amended to prevent “a disproportionate interference with freedom of expression.”

People convicted of encouragement of terrorism face up to seven years in jail.

The report, which is part of the UN committee’s analysis into human rights in Britain, condemned the extension of detention without charge from 14 to 28 days and said that it was “even more disturbed” at plans to extend this to 42 days.

Despite a major rebellion by Labour MPs, the government narrowly won the 42-day Commons vote in June with the help of the Democratic Unionists.

But the Lords are expected to defeat it when they vote on the anti-terror Bill this autumn.

Britain already has the longest period of pre-charge detention in the Western world.

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn branded the plans “absurd and excessive,” warning: “Instead of building links with communities, these laws serve to isolate and frighten people. Parliament should be defending civil liberties, not take them away.”

Stop the War Coalition co-founder John Rees welcomed the UN report as “conclusive and authoritative” evidence that civil liberties have been victims of war.

“This government has no right to lecture other countries, whether be it in the Caucasus or the Middle East, about their civil liberties or human rights records,” he stormed.

Mr Rees called for a “wide-ranging review of the government’s civil liberties record and the effect of the anti-terror laws and reverse its policy on 42-day detention.”

The UN report also criticised ministers’ treatment of the Chagos islanders, who have been fighting for their right to return home since 1967, when Harold Wilson’s government turfed them out and handed the island in the Indian Ocean to the US to use as its military base.

Mr Corbyn, who has been campaigning on their behalf in Parliament, said: “The government has used mediaeval orders to block their right to return and the islanders are still fighting their case in the House of Lords.

“It is time to end this travesty of justice and human rights.”

Tony Benn backs David Davis

Benn has taken some flak for doing this (see here) but given that the election is being fought over the question of civil liberties, he’s right to back Davis. And this election will expose the divisions within Cameron’s New Tories – shattering Dave’s nice guy facade.

Davis’ resignation highlights the fact that contentious policies such as pre-charge detention and ID cards are decided by politicians – those least-trusted by the public (and with good reason, the government’s victory on the 42 days vote was due to bribery and bullying). Why leave important issues to politicans? Shouldn’t we have our say?

Why Labour won’t fight David Davis – their MPs support his stand

Not Andy Burnham, obviously. I’m talking about your average real Labour MP, not one of the New Labour Borg. Backbenchers Bob Marshall-Andrews and Ian Gibson have come out in favour of David Davis.

Labour won’t stand against him, Kelvin Mackenzie’s not been on the box spouting his mouth off for a few days, not since footage of him slagging off Hull surfaced (and someone might have told him his old pal Rupert Murdoch, Australia’s answer to Mr Burns, can’t fund his campaign because he’s an American citizen!).

The Liberals aren’t opposing Davis, as promised. Violinist Nigel Kennedy is backing Davis, and folk singer Billy Bragg is being sounded out (pardon the pun). Former British Army Colonel Tim Collins, who was one of those rumoured ‘independents’, has said he backs Davis. Even the fascist BNP aren’t standing against his Freedom campaign, which smacks of opportunism – they would probably introduce indefinite internment…

Can we conclude that the argument in favour of 42 day pre-charge dentention has been lost?

Who will come forward to defend the nascent police state before the voters? Not even the fascists will!

Brown’s defence of his police state measures was overshadowed by Hazel Blears losing her laptop and the sensitive data on it, but we can be certain he won’t be taking fight against David Davis.

Now, I recall watching David Davis being interviewed by Andrew Marr on the Sunday before the vote which led to his Howard Beale moment. My thoughts were: here’s a sincere guy, talking about an important policy – it’s just a shame he’s a Tory.

I don’t know where Davis is going with this – if it’s part of a scheme to win Tory leadership, to form a new party, or to actually reverse the many draconian laws passed in recent years. But I do know that, on the issues he’s dealing with at the moment – I’m on his side.

These are turbulent times, for sure. Seemingly strange things will happen – and Davis going out on a limb to fight terrorism by defending democratic rights, well, that’s just one of those things…

As The Socialist observes:

This incident shows the volatility of British politics at present; many people feel there is no alternative to the sleaze-ridden incompetence of the main political parties. But it also shows the possibility of a new right-wing populist party forming in future. The Tory Party’s fault lines run deep – patrician one-nation Tories rub shoulders with Thatcherites, right-wing libertarians, right-wing authoritarians, anti-EU nationalists etc – and the consensus behind Cameron is a fragile one.

But we can put no faith in capitalist politicians leading the fight against the dangerous 42-day law. It should be opposed by the workers’ movement as a danger to innocent Muslims and to all opposing unjust wars and other government policies, as the legislation can be potentially used against any worker.

Davis cannot speak for workers, he is a right-wing Tory. He supports the anti-gay section 28, the return of the death penalty, and has called for the Human Rights Act to be scrapped; yet his attacks on Britain’s ‘surveillance society’ struck a chord. It shows how far the Labour Party has moved to the right that such a politician may be seen as the only sane man in the asylum.

Govt bans peaceful protest against war criminal

We will defy the ban on peaceful protest

Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne has requested Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to lift the ban on the peaceful protest against George Bush this Sunday. The Stop the War Coalition has vowed to defy the ban.

Lindsey German, Convenor of the Stop the War Coalition said, “We are still intending to march to Whitehall this Sunday. We don’t accept that this is an issue of security, it’s an issue of the right to protest against the greatest war criminal the world has ever seen.

Coming after the 42 days fiasco we see the ban as a further infringement of our civil liberties. So we will have to defy the ban.”

The Left List will have a major presence on the demonstration and call on our supporters to join us on the march. Stop the War put out the following press release after Chris Huhne’s letter to the Home Office earlier today.

British right to protest must not be curtailed by US requests

Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne today wrote to Jacqui Smith calling on her to overturn the ban on a march against George Bush this Sunday.

Calling the ban ‘the final straw’ after Wednesday’s vote on 42-day detention, he wrote: “Just because the votes of these protesters cannot be bought, it does not mean that their voices should not be heard by those in 10 Downing Street.

“In this country we have a long tradition of peaceful protest and would be shocked if British civil liberties were curtailed at the request of a foreign government.”

Brown buys votes to survive, but is given a let-off by David Davis

Timing is everything.

This should have taken place 24 hours later:

It would have made Davis seem less impulsive, for one, and would have allowed greater media attention to be focused on Brown buying votes to save his skin.

Rumours abound that Davis – who won’t be challenged by the Liberals – will face a victim or survivor of a terrorist attack, rather than an official Labour candidate, in the by-election.

The Sun, the only national newspaper that backed the police-state measure of increasing detention without charge, could field a candidate – or rather, The Sun‘s proprietor, the tax-dodging union-busting war-monger Rupert Murdoch could be financing an opponent of Davis.

So, this was not an opportunistic decision. Davis must know that the desire in ruling circles is for the further erosion of civil liberties, not the restoration and extension of democratic rights. I suspect he will struggle to get his message across as the Murdoch press will stop at nothing to portray him as an oddball.