Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Workers rally against the strike-busting agenda of the courts

Today, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) joined the British Airways Stewards and Stewardesses Association (BASSA) in having their rights pissed on by the anti-worker stance of the High Court.

As they report;
The NUJ has been forced to call off industrial action scheduled to take place across several Johnston Press titles tomorrow (April 19) and re-ballot 550 members at the group.

Incredibly, Johnston Press ran to the High Court on Friday afternoon to block the planned action, arguing that it doesn't employ any journalists.

Johnston Press spent enormous time and effort putting together a 600-page submission to prove that -- despite the JP stamp on the pay slips of staff working on their titles; the JP company handbook issued to all staff; the Johnston Press plc intranet that publishes company-wide procedures including policies on grievance, disciplinary procedure and health and safety; despite the group's claims in the  annual report, in company bulletins and external publications that it employs 1,900 journalists and more than 7,000 employees -- that JP “employ no journalists”.

Johnston Press has made this claim, despite making group-wide decisions on the recent pay freeze, pensions, and employment terms and conditions.

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: “Johnston Press management’s claim that it employs no journalists would be laughable, did it not have such serious implications for industrial relations in the UK. It’s clearly part of an emerging trend amongst employers to derail democratically agreed industrial action by skilfully exploiting the anti-trade union laws. In this case, by creating a web of subsidiary companies set up as multiple employers, JP management has been able to argue at the High Court that our dispute around group-wide pay and the introduction of a new content management system across the titles is, in fact, a series of identical disputes with JP's multiple subsidiaries.

“Unfortunately, given the threat of injunctions, legal costs, individual members losing their protection against unfair dismissal and punitive damages being imposed, we have been forced to call off Wednesday’s strike action and will re-ballot members.

“Our members at Johnston Press share the frustration that workers at Network Rail and BA have felt recently, where overwhelming ballot results in favour of strike action have been successfully ruled out of order by managements exploiting the technicalities of the anti-trade union laws.

“Johnston Press plc closed the group-wide pension scheme. Johnston Press plc imposed the group-wide pay freeze. Johnston Press plc imposed the group-wide introduction of the ATEX content management system. Yet Johnston Press plc has worked hard to ensure that under the anti-trade union laws, we are forced to have a dispute not with it, but with each and every one of its wholly owned subsidiaries. It is patently unfair and the law is an ass."
Members of the train drivers' union, Aslef, face a similar decision in the near future. Maintenance firm Tube Lines have "said there were concerns about the validity of the strike ballot and asked the union to withdraw it." Although union leaders are insisting that "the strike still stands," this is the clearest indication yet that challenges to the legality of strike ballots are becoming the norm in corporate union-busting.

Fortunately, it seems that the first sparks of the fightback I urged yesterday are beginning to flare up.

Unite will hear the result of their legal challenge to the injunction on Thursday. Meanwhile, the Alliance for Workers' Liberty have produced model motions which workers can put forward to their union branches as a pledge of solidarity;
Model motion: FREE OUR UNIONS!

This union believes
  1. The use of the courts to block strikes by Network Rail workers and now, twice, British Airways workers is an absolute disgrace.
This union further believes
  1. That court injunctions are now becoming the bosses' default response to any big strike.
  2. That the Tory anti-union laws kept by New Labour mean that trade unionism is only semi-legal in Britain - and that judges can overturn an overwhelming vote by many thousands of workers to strike, while the bosses continue to push through sackings, wage reductions and cuts in services without consulting anyone.
  3. That we may now face new anti-union laws from the Lib Dem-Tory government.
This union resolves
  1. To campaign for the repeal of the anti-union laws and for positive legal rights: to strike, picket, take solidarity action.
  2. To affiliate to the United Campaign for Repeal of the Anti-Trade Union Laws.
  3. To send this motion to the national executive, and request that they i) raise this at Labour Party conference by submitting a motion for repeal of the anti-union laws; ii) raise this issue at TUC Congress by proposing a cross-union campaign, including industrial action, to abolish the anti-union laws.
[Obviously adapt as necessary for non-Labour affiliated unions.]

***

Model motion: FREE OUR UNIONS!
(Version for Unison branches)

This union believes
  1. The use of the courts to block strikes by Network Rail workers and now, twice, British Airways workers.
This union further believes
  1. That court injunctions are now becoming the bosses' default response to any big strike.
  2. That the Tory anti-union laws kept by New Labour mean that trade unionism is only semi-legal in Britain - and that judges can overturn an overwhelming vote by many thousands of workers to strike, while the bosses continue to push through sackings, wage reductions and cuts in services without consulting anyone.
  3. That we may now face new anti-union laws from the Lib Dem-Tory government.
This union resolves
  1. To campaign for the repeal of the anti-union laws and for positive legal rights: to strike, picket, take solidarity action.
  2. To affiliate to the United Campaign for Repeal of the Anti-Trade Union Laws.
  3. To send this motion to the national executive, and request that they raise this issue at TUC Congress by proposing a cross-union campaign, including industrial action, to abolish the anti-union laws.
  4. To mandate the Labour Link officer to: propose to our next APF meeting that the union nationally should seek to raise this issue at Labour Party conference by submitting a motion for repeal of the anti-union laws; and attempt to promote this policy through the APF structure.
Hardly the most radical motions, but they at least offer a beginning. TUC-affiliated trade unions have been lacklustr-to-inactive in terms of challenging Thatcher and Tebbit's anti-strike laws, and any move to rectify that is more than welcome.

Much more vital in the short term are direct actions of solidarity against the courts. The first such action is the Flying Bike Picket being organised by Workers' Climate Action;
On Saturday 22 May, Workers’ Climate Action will be organising a critical mass bike ride in solidarity with the BA cabin crew workers’ struggle and in defence of the right to strike.


...


Our critical mass will go ahead as a protest in support of the right to strike.

Because of the way that the BASSA/Unite pickets are laid out, using bikes to get around and visit them is the most efficient way of showing solidarity. It’s also a more creative and innovative way of showing our support than more traditional methods.
Those wishing to attend can contact Workers' Climate Action on 07985 201 350 for more info and can RSVP via Facebook here.

We need to keep building momentum. Whether or not the campaign in defence of the right to strike will grow into an unstoppable force remains to be seen. As does whether these initial actions will catch the attention of the bosses so keen to crush us underfoot for their profits. I would urge everyone to keep this issue alive, to push it forward in their union branches and other organisations, and to publish news of actions taken on every available forum.

What is clear is that, no matter what the bosses will not relent. The democratic rights of BASSA and the NUJ are not the first victims of their class war and they will not be the last. But capitulation will only bring their attacks on harder and hasten the backwards trend which will consume every single right and privilege we have fought for and won over the past two centuries.

If we want any other outcome, then we must echo the sentiments of August Spies when told by a judge that he faced the gallows after struggling for the eight-hour working day;
If you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labor movement, then hang us. Here you will tread upon a spark, but here, and there, and behind you, and in front of you, and everywhere, the flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out. The ground upon which you stand is on fire.