“The UK already has some of the most restrictive trade union laws in the world – but workers have been pushed into action by a government and employers that won’t listen.”
By Kate Bell, Trades Union Congress (TUC)
This winter we’ve all been inspired by the workers taking industrial action to defend their pay and conditions. And the whole trade union movement stands ready to defend their fundamental right to strike.
The right to strike is a fundamental British liberty
Exercising the right to strike when negotiations break down is a fundamental British liberty. It’s not one that workers ever use lightly.
Going on strike in the UK today means getting past tough legal restrictions, including winning a ballot conducted by post. It also means losing pay for the days you’re on strike.
But when employers won’t negotiate, exercising the right to strike can be the only way to bring them back to the table.
But it’s under attack from a Tory government that’s run out of ideas
The strikes this winter are the symptom of a broken economy. We’ve experienced the longest pay squeeze since Napoleonic times, with workers losing out on £20,000 worth of wages due to pay not keeping up with prices since 2008. And exploitative bosses like those at P&O Ferries are getting away with treating their workers like disposable labour.
But rather than getting round the table to negotiate a fair resolution of disputes, and setting out a plan to get pay rising, ministers are making vague threats to the right to strike.
In October government attacked transport workers through a proposed law mandating minimum service levels – but it’s not clear whether this has now been dumped. And ministers keep telling the media that they are proposing “tough” new laws – but they haven’t published any proposals.
The UK already has some of the most restrictive trade union laws in the world – but workers have been pushed into action by a government and employers that won’t listen. You can’t legislate away the depth of anger workers feel about how they’ve been treated.
The trade union movement stands ready to defend the right to strike
Working people and their trade unions want to negotiate a fair resolution to the current disputes. Ministers and employers should talk to unions about our demands for better pay and fairer working conditions. That’s our priority.
But if ministers want to use workers as a political football, the whole trade union movement will be united in defending the right to strike.
And make no mistake: we will fight hard. Any new restrictions are likely to be in breach of the UK’s commitments under international law. Ministers don’t have a mandate for new curbs on the right to strike from the manifesto they were elected on.
Working people across the country just want a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. It’s time for a government that puts them first.
- Kate Bell is the Head of Rights, International, Social and Economics at the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
- This article was originally published by the TUC on December 19th, 2022.
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