The second injunction in less than six months was granted to British Airways yesterday, stopping its cabin crew from taking strike action which would have started today.
This has become a worrying trend and Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite the Union, is right to warn that yesterday’s judgement ‘brings into question whether we have the right to strike in this country, which is a fundamental human right’.
Repeated injunctions in the favour of bosses are effectively outlawing the right to strike. This latest ruling is an encouragement to every employer who wants to bypass all negotiation and compromise with their employees.
Why try to stop your employees voting for strike action by granting concessions, if you can go to the courts to stop them taking that strike action?
In BA's case the court ruled an injunction should be granted because Unite did not comply with the letter of the law - they didn't announce the number of spoilt voting papers in the last ballot.
What was the vast number of spoilt ballots? Was it in the thousands? The hundreds? No - it was 11.
This is a trivial technicality, an excuse to rip up the serious democratic decision of the union members who voted.
But the question is not about whether Unite got something wrong with the ballot. The question is why the law is applied to a multinational company so differently to a union of working people.
- While BA managed to drag Unite before the courts with remarkable swiftness, obtaining the necessary injunction a day before the strike, Unite’s claims of BA’s unfair treatment towards cabin crew who were involved in the strike have not been the subject of immediate deliberation by a high court judge. These grievances are ongoing.
- While BA management has been on the television denouncing the union and the strike, cabin crew are not allowed to speak to the media without permission from BA. If they do so, they face being charged with gross misconduct and immediate dismissal.
- While BA has received support from rival Michael O’Leary, the boss of Ryanair, who has said Walsh is “absolutely right” to take a hard line against BA cabin crew - and even lent BA aircraft to help undermine the strike - the anti-union laws stop any other groups of workers from taking solidarity action with BA workers.
Though BA has undoubtedly behaved despicably, it has done so within the law. That is why the anti-union laws and the injunctions have to be resisted.
Unite has gone back to the courts today to appeal against the injunction. It is right to do so. Unite must show publicly that workers are not prepared to accept the previous ruling. But how long are we going to accept that one unelected high court judge can make a decision about whether decisions by unions (which do hold elections) are democratic enough?
The government of this country was only days old before it started making up legal and constitutional rules as it went along. First was the announcement of a proposed 5 year fixed term parliament, and then (shortly after media pundits mused this might not get through the House of Lords) it devised a plan to add around 100 new peers to the House of Lords, so that it would ‘reflect’ the composition of the government. And, presumably, ‘reflect’ the views of the government - about 5 year fixed terms perhaps?
Yesterday, the Civil Aviation Authority changed its guidance permitting aircraft to fly through higher ash density than was previously considered acceptable.
What have the Civil Aviation Authority and the government got in common? They are prepared to change the rules to suit their own interests.
Working people cannot win if they play by these rules - because they are playing with the people who write the rules. While the government wants to force working people to pay for the crisis, we will need the right to strike and protest effectively. That’s why the anti-union laws and the injunctions must be resisted.
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Wednesday 26 May
7pm Conway Hall Red Lion Sq
Tony Benn • Caroline Lucas MP
• Christos Giovanopoulos coalition of the Radical Left SYRIZA • Aris Vasilopoulos SYRIZA • Penny White BASSA • Paul Mackney fmr general secretary NATFHE • Clare Solomon president-elect, University of London Union • John Rees Counterfire • Michael Bradley Right to Work Campaign
Kate Connelly is a writer and historian. She led school student strikes in the British anti-war movement in 2003, co-ordinated the Emily Wilding Davison Memorial Campaign in 2013 and is a leading member of Counterfire. Her book, ‘Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire‘ was published by Pluto Press last year.
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