This blog has in the past been cautious about the prospect of mass industrial action in the UK, given the tendency for union leaders to exaggerate their militancy – and newspapers’ love of a good “Winter of Discontent” headline.
But now the threat feels very real for the first time in months. When the likes of Prospect and the FDA are talking about strike ballots, there is a sense that more confrontation is inevitable; the only question is how widespread the actions will be, the level of support within the unions, and the timing. It is still not guaranteed that there will be a crippling universal action.
(Those unions who went on strike in June – the PCS, NUT etc – were not Labour-affililiated.) Read more
The Miliband team aren’t desperately happy that Ed’s decision not to attend tomorrow’s TUC rally has been construed in some quarters (see my last blog) as a U-turn. They are claiming that the event isn’t even a rally anyway.
Ed proudly supports the rights of people to voice concerns and lobby Parliament, they tell me. “But there is no rally, people won’t be marching, it’s not placards and braziers.”
They are half right (yes it’s only an event at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster) and half wrong (it is still a self-styled ‘rally’). Read more
Ministers have no qualms about standing up to the unions in the current climate, as you can see from the FT’s splash this morning about their attempts to slash redundancy terms for 500,000 civil servants. The coalition is trying to push through a move – initiated by Labour last year - to reduce the maximum pay-off from 6.5 years to 2. It was thwarted in May when the Public and Commercial Service Union won a judicial review against it.
But is the government prepared to go to war against the union movement? This is the implication from this morning’s Times front page – “Ministers in secret talks to toughen strike laws” – which claims that ministers could re-examine changing strike laws if imminent job losses lead to widespread industrial unrest.
I heard a similar rumour last week but was told the government had not changed its position since late June. Then, the CBI called for a change so that strikes could only happen if 40 per cent of the total workforce backed action – rather than, as present, a majority of those who voted. The business group was apparently slapped down by David Cameron, whose spokesman said there were “no plans to change strike legislation.”
Having “no plans” is not the same as ruling something out indefinitely, of course. Read more