The Guardian view on trade unions: needed as much as ever | Editorial
In a low-wage, exploitative economy, workers still need help and support, but not the way they used to
There is little to be said for the strike stopping some customers getting their Christmas presents in the post, nor the ones threatened by British Airways cabin staff and baggage handlers at many of the UK’s airports that threaten long-planned festive breaks, nor for the long-running dispute that is making the lives of commuters in parts of south-east England so miserable. But they are not the start of a wild-eyed workers’ insurgency, as some overexcited reports have suggested in the past few days. Nor, whether or not they achieve their legitimate aim of protecting their members’ interests, are they helping the wider trade union movement to find a new relevance and authority as membership declines in a rapidly changing economy.
There will possibly be a third more days lost to strikes in 2016 than in 2015. But last year was exceptionally peaceful on the industrial front, the most peaceful since 2005. The total of lost days for 2016 is still historically low. The point of this unnecessary row is that in some quarters, although it would seem not in Downing Street, there is still an appetite for more union-bashing laws. Some backbenchers hanker after the ultimate objective of the anti-union right since the Trade Disputes Act of 1906 reversed the Taff Vale judgment, removing trade union immunity from damages – thus effectively making industrial action impossible. This is daft on every front, not least because there would be no majority for it in parliament; the government was forced to make serial concessions on the trade union act, which is due to come into force next March. It already significantly narrows the possibilities of a strike by requiring not only a majority in favour of strike action, but a turnout of at least 50% of those entitled to vote. If parliament approves more regulations next month, it will also ban strike action in “important public services”, including the railways, unless it is backed by more than 40% of those entitled to vote.
Source: Guardian Transport