THE LEADERS of the Unite and RMT unions warned yesterday that they will mobilise their full power to defeat Tory plans to ban the right to strike.
Transport Secretary Shapps announced in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph that the Tory government is drawing up new anti-union legislation requiring minimum numbers of rail staff to work during any strike.
The law would make industrial action illegal if those levels were not met.
The threat to basically outlaw effective strike action on the railways comes as an RMT ballot of 40,000 members closes tomorrow, with RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch expressing confidence that there will be a majority YES vote.
‘Unite will confront head-on and by whatever means necessary, any further attacks on the right to strike,’ Unite General Secreatary Sharon Graham said yesterday in response to the threat.
RMT leader Lynch warned: ‘Any attempt by Grant Shapps to make effective strike action illegal on the railways will be met with the fiercest resistance from RMT and the wider trade union movement.’
He continued: ‘The government need to focus all their efforts on finding a just settlement to this rail dispute, not attack the democratic rights of working people.
‘Britain already has the worst trade union rights in western Europe.
‘And we have not fought tooth and nail for railway workers since our forebears set up the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants in 1872, in order to meekly accept a future where our members are prevented from legally withdrawing their labour.’
Unite leader Graham said: ‘In Britain we already operate under the most restrictive labour laws in western Europe. A workers’ right to withdraw their labour is inalienable in any democracy worth its name.
‘This is a cynical, authoritarian move designed to protect corporate profits and has been wheeled out to satisfy the needs of short-term factional politics.
‘While corporations make billions and ordinary working people suffer, this government chooses to attack the rights of British workers.
‘When P&O, a billion-dollar company owned by a foreign dictatorship, brutally sacked 800 British workers, they broke the law. The government’s response was a fine.
‘When British workers threaten to defend their living standards in the face of a cost-of-living crisis not of their making, this government threatens to take away their democratic rights.
‘We are now forced to put the government on notice. Unite will not sacrifice the protection of our members’ jobs, pay and conditions on the altar of ‘‘Partygate’’. If you force our legitimate activities outside of the law, then don’t expect us to play by the rules.
‘And Labour now needs to stand up and be counted. I don’t want hard-to-believe promises for the future; we need concrete action now.
‘This is an attack on working people and on the whole of the labour movement. It’s time for the political wing that was founded by and continues to be funded by our members to step up to the plate.’
Meanwhile, the RMT has also announced that members in Scotland are being balloted for strike action after ScotRail’s derisory pay offer of 2.2%, with RPI inflation running at 11.1%.
Lynch said: ‘ScotRail needs to put its hands deeper into its pockets and start rewarding their staff properly.’
The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association has pledged to coordinate with the RMT in the fight against job cuts and pay freezes.