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The Right to Strike

a BA tail fin

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The High Court judgement to prohibit the BA strike because Unite had failed to notify all eligible voters that there were 11 spoiled ballot papers brings the law into utter disrepute and reduces the judicial process to farce.   How would politicians feel if their election was disallowed because the number of spoiled ballot papers had not been notified to all their eligible voters?

Ever since the Taff Vale decision of 1906 the law has been repeatedly manipulated to make it virtually impossible for the unions to operate effectively.   That was the aim of the 6 Thatcher anti-trade union Acts, and this latest episode sharply highlights New Labour’s failure to reverse the grossly unjust tilt in the laws in favour of the employer.   That is yet another reason why Labour must now renew itself in its proper role of defending social and industrial justice.

The judge also stopped industrial action because in his view the cost of not blocking it would have been far greater for BA and its passengers.   Since when were judges authorised to make personal assessments about the impact of industrial action as opposed to whether or not it accorded with the law?

Of course nobody wants strikes, not least the strikers themselves.   But what redress is open to a union and its members if management is gung-ho on taking unilateral decisions that affect their jobs and pay if the last resort option of industrial action is denied them?   ACAS is clearly the best alternative, but if that fails and if pendulum arbitration is denied, the right to strike must remain a fundamental bulwark of a free society.

Of course some will still argue that the price of a strike is too high.   In that case the only real alternative, if the right to strike in certain circumstances is to be suspended, is for the management prerogative – the overriding right to manage – to be suspended as well, and the two sides would then argue their case before an arbitration tribunal whose decision would be final and binding.   I suspect that, like Solomon threatening to cut the baby in two to divide equally between the two claimant mothers, we would soon discover that the owners and controllers of capital weren’t actually in favour of a fair and balanced system of conflict resolution which avoided the costs of a strike, but only of a system which guaranteed the right to manage unfettered combined with the use of the law and the media to browbeat the unions into submission.

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