Professor Keith Ewing, who addressed the GMB Conference on the same day as Vince Cable MP earlier this week, poses three searching questions to the Con Dem Business Minister following his threat of more ant-union laws: http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/keith-ewing/crackdown-on-uk-strike-rights-letter-to-cable
Question 1. Dear Vince,
Could you please explain the size of your majority in Twickenham at the general election in 2010? No need for us to wait for an answer. The BBC website tells us that Mr Cable secured some 32,483 votes in an election in which some 59,721 people voted. Vince won handsomely with 54.4% of the vote in an election in which there was a significant number of candidates.
Closer inspection reveals, however, that only 75% of the good people of Twickers voted at the election, which makes Vince’s achievement look not quite so impressive after all. What this means is that of those eligible to vote, somewhat less than 50% voted in favour of Vince, giving rise to the obvious question:
If less than 50% is good enough for the Secretary of State for Business and the Elimin-Ation of Trade Union Protection (BEATUP) (I made up that bit), why is less than 50% not good enough for workers who want to strike to protest against a government without a mandate?
Question 2. Dear Vince,
Could you please explain which other countries have a special majority of the kind now proposed? By other countries, please avoid Bahrain, Egypt, Syria and Tunisia. No need for us to wait for an answer here either. The Tory cubs who proposed a strike threshold in May thought they had struck gold on discovering that what they were proposing had parallels in other European countries: Denmark and the Czech Republic.
Being a sceptical sort, I made inquiries of labour movement contacts in Denmark, and in particular their legal advisers. Yes, they said, we do have a special threshold. But it is 25% of those eligible to vote. Moreover, it applies only where less than 40% of those eligible to vote actually do so. In my view, Denmark thus does not really count. Which means that the best they can come up with is the Czech Republic of all ‘major democracies’ in the world.
I can only presume that the apparent lack of attraction of this particular balloting regime is that it is neither liberal nor democratic.
Question 3. Dear Vince,
Where a union calls industrial action with the support of at least 40% or 50% of those eligible to vote, could you please explain what steps you will take to ensure that unions are protected from employers using the courts like slot machines to obtain injunctions to stop strikes on trivial technical grounds?
• In 2009, 92% of Unite cabin crew members in an 80% turnout voted in favour of industrial action. The action was crucially stopped by a High Court injunction because the union had inadvertently included in the ballot a number of members who would be taking redundancy before the strike started. The injunction was granted even though the participation in the ballot of the contested individuals could not possibly have affected the result.
• In a second ballot in the aftermath of the High Court decision, 80% of cabin crew in an 80% turnout voted in favour of industrial action. This too was stopped in the High Court before sanity was restored in the Court of Appeal. The reason for the High Court injunction was that the union had failed to notify its 10,000 or so members that 11 of their number had spoiled their ballot paper in the strike vote, an omission which could not possibly have made any difference to the ballot. It seems that even the Court of Appeal was embarrassed by this pedantry.
I can only presume that a 40% or 50% threshold will not prevent injunctions being granted on such grounds, but on the contrary will provide employers with yet another litigation opportunity.
In other words, what is being proposed is (i) contrary to principle and deeply hypocritical, (ii) unparalleled in any modern industrial economy, and (iii) a recipe for even more nit-picking litigation.