Trade unions accuse government of “1930s Germany” tactics over new strike reform laws

Government says stricter rules will protect businesses and working people

Today, the government will unveil a raft of reforms that will crackdown on unions’ legal right to strike, which it says will protect businesses and working people from the effects of strikes.

But unions have lashed out at the changes, which they say will make legal strikes all but impossible.

Under the bill, a minimum of 50% turnout from eligible members will be required and a strike would need the support of at least 40% of voting members to be legal. This will apply to the “core” public services including health, transport, fire services or schools.

In addition, unions’ power is expected to be further reduced by the lifting of restrictions on hiring in agency workers to cover shifts when strikes are on.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Trade unions have a constructive role to play in representing their members’ interests but our one nation government will balance their rights with those of working people and business.

“These changes are being introduced so that strikes only happen when a clear majority of those entitled to vote have done so and all other possibilities have been explored.”

But unions have warned the changes could lead to worsening conditions for workers.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the bill “is a slippery slope towards worse rights for all”, adding that the laws would allow organisations to “stick two fingers up” to workers by hiring in agency staff to prevent the effect from strikes being felt.

“1930s Germany”

Mick Whelan, general secretary at ASLEF, the train drivers union, unleashed a strongly worded attack on the legislation.

He said: “It smacks of Germany in the 1930s when trade union leaders, and activists, were rounded up, and imprisoned, and, in some cases, executed. The Nazis banned unions, and strikes, in 1933 and that is what the Tories are trying to do now. They want to effectively neuter the unions – the only part of civil society now able to fight back – in Britain.

“It is the right of every worker to withdraw his or her labour. We are not slaves and this is not a slave state. No man or woman should be forced to work by the threats of a bad employer or a bad government,” he added.

Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, Britain’s largest union, said unions must be ready to fight.

He said: “Unite is not going to see itself rendered toothless by passively submitting to unjust laws. If the Tories wish to put trade unionism beyond the law, then they must take the consequences.

“We are ready for the fight, and we will, I believe, find allies throughout society, amongst everyone who cares for freedom and democracy.”

“Important and fair”

The CBI supports the government action however.

CBI director general Katja Hall said: “We’re glad the Government has brought forward this Bill, as the CBI has long called for modernisation of our outdated industrial relations laws to better reflect today’s workforce and current workplace practices.

“The introduction of thresholds is an important, but fair, step to ensure that strikes have the clear support of the workforce.”

Despite the anger of the unions, last week’s Tube strike would still have been legitimate under the new rules, as Aslef members voted for industrial action by 97% while the turnout was 81%.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • Anonymous

    Asking for 50% agreement is the basis of democracy. The Unions will rattle their cages as they learn they are becoming more and more irrelevant.

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  • Trade Unions should make the country proud by increasing the productivity , deriive pride ,concerns for Country and emphasis/ focus on duty than rights and learn lessons from work force of Japan.

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  • Unions routinely act in the best interests of their members by holding the country to ransom and making life miserable for ordinary people. They have for decades resisted innovation and modern technology which they call "putting people before profit" resulting in declining industry to the detriment of the country. Unions are a menace and have a lot to answer for.

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