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The anti-trade union laws: how to smash them

The anti-union laws are holding us back – we have to organise to break them, writes Joy Macready

What do the anti-trade union laws say? Workers cannot hold a mass meeting and decide to strike there and then. Instead the decision must be taken by a postal ballot, when workers are isolated at home.

The unions must give the bosses at least seven days notice of ballots and seven more days before industrial action. This gives the bosses about a month to intimidate workers and organise scab labour.

A strike can only be against your own employer, making it illegal, for example, for teachers to strike together against the government’s education cuts even though they effect every school. It is also illegal to picket workplaces other than your own (flying pickets).

The employer can obtain court injunctions against strike action and sue the union for damages if its members organise a wildcat strike or walk out without a ballot. Unions are liable unless they publicly denounce the strikers, in which case the members leading the illegal action could end up in prison.

Judges can outlaw political strikes or any action that they deem not part of a trade dispute – so nurses cannot strike against the privatisation of the NHS.

The anti-union laws were brought in by the Tories in the 1980s and 90s. Not one of them were repealed by Labour when it was in power.
Just imagine if these laws weren’t in place – the strikes of the past three decades would have had very different outcomes, from the great miners’ strike to the Royal Mail dispute. The same bosses and Tories, who rail against “state interference”, would be demanding the police and courts smash picket lines and jail militants.

To their shame, the trade union leaders have used the threat of the anti-trade union laws to squander any united fightback against the government.

How to Smash Them

The way to end the anti-union laws is to defy them. The tens of thousands of young people, students and public-sector workers that occupied the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin in opposition to anti-union legislation have shown us what we need to do – resist, occupy, strike.

The Tory cuts attack every single worker in Britain. Any effective strike to stop them will come up against these anti-working class laws. We must demand our leaders defy the law when this happens and prepare to do so without them if necessary. And wherever they are used, we should call for solidarity strike action – up to and including a general strike.

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