FOLLOWING the Tories announcing on Monday that they had completed their ‘consultation period’ over the minimum service levels rules for railway, ambulance and border security staff, the TUC was forced to respond by calling an emergency one-day special Congress on Saturday 9th December.
The Tories have signalled that the gloves are off in the fight to make strikes illegal, and that legislation will quickly be introduced to enforce 40% of rail services running during strike action.
The penalty for any worker refusing to obey management demands they cross picket lines will be dismissal. The legislation also applies to Border Force workers and some Passport Office staff in England, Wales, and Scotland.
The Tories have not disguised their intention to extend these laws to cover millions of workers.
The Department of Health and Social Care is currently looking at extending minimum service levels to other emergency services, including doctors and nurses.
The aim of the Tories’ new rules is to make strikes completely ineffective by abolishing the hard-won right of workers to withdraw their labour.
They are designed to leave trade unions powerless to fight the employers for wages, conditions and jobs, and leave them only with the role of enforcing the Tory laws on their members.
The Strikes (Minimum Service Level) Act was passed in July followed by a six-week consultation period to produce a statutory ‘Code of Practice’ laying out all the legal measures to force trade union members to comply with the strike breaking laws.
The code also sets out all the legal requirements on trade unions to either comply with the demands of the employers or face being taken to court and fined up to one million pounds.
The long passage of the Tory anti-strike bill through both houses of Parliament and finally into law has been accompanied by outrage and defiance from the TUC and trade union leaders.
Much of this defiance has centred around claims by unions and TUC general secretary Paul Nowak that these laws won’t work and will only ‘inflame industrial tensions’. Along with this, have been warnings to employers not to resort to these laws to break strikes.
Following the Tory announcement on Monday, Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT union, said: ‘We believe employers have the discretion not to issue minimum service work notices and, as such, we are calling on them not to issue them.’
He added: ‘Any employer that seeks to issue a work notice will find themselves in a further dispute with my union.’
This escalation of the war by the Tories to smash the trade unions, has forced the TUC to recognise that sitting back while doing nothing will not be tolerated by a working class that is determined to fight for the right to strike in defence of its jobs, wages and conditions.
Yesterday, the TUC announced that it will hold a special Congress to ‘discuss the next stage of campaigning against the Conservative anti-strike laws.’
The announcement says: ‘It is rare for the TUC to seek to convene the whole trade union movement at a special Congress outside of the TUC’s usual flagship annual event in September’, noting that the last special Congress took place in 1982 to fight Margaret Thatcher’s anti-union legislation.
Citing ‘exceptional circumstances’ given the ‘unprecedented attack on the right to strike’, the special Congress has been convened at Congress House in London on Saturday 9th December 2023.
Nowak said: ‘Unions will keep fighting this spiteful legislation. We won’t stop until it is repealed.’
The Tories will never repeal the anti-strike laws.
They are a crucial weapon in the war by the Tories and the capitalist ruling class to smash the trade union movement in order to dump the economic recession on the backs of workers.
One thing is clear, workers will not allow the TUC to use this special Congress to avoid a real fight with the Tories.
Workers must organise a mass lobby of this Congress demanding that the TUC act at once by calling an indefinite general strike to bring down the Tories and bring in a workers’ government and socialism.
This is the only way forward.