A few days ago I wrote a piece outlining the industrial action that will be affecting Britain in the next few days. Without repeating myself the premise was that we need to stand in solidarity with those on strike, but I also warned: “the government may then to seek to take advantage of this public sentiment towards the unions and push through stricter anti-union measures”. In cases like these I hate being proven correct because Tory grandees are now calling for restrictions on the rights of workers to collectively bargain and conduct industrial action.
Chris Grayling, the Tory Transport Secretary, has starting lobbying Theresa May for new anti-strike laws for railway workers. Specifically, Grayling wants legislation passed to ban all-out railway strikes which are the type that have plagued the management of Southern Rail for the last few years. The way that legislation would do this is by categorising railway workers as ‘essential’ and revoke their right to strike like in the case of the armed forces and the police.
Former Tory Chairman Norman Tebbit has backed Grayling’s plan and former Cabinet Minister Michael Heseltine has said that the trade unions are “holding society to account”. General Secretary of the RMT Mike Cash fired back at the government by saying that the union was “not party to any Trotskyist conspiracy to bring down the government”. The depressing thing about our discourse is that a trade union boss had to openly say this to the press because the vilification of the Left has gotten to the point where people believe this to be a legitimate concern.
Interestingly, however, Downing Street has quickly distanced themselves from the plans and has instead tried to shift criticism to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who endorsed the action by ASLEF and the RMT. The reason I believe this is that Theresa May doesn’t want to start a protracted war with the trade union movement at a time when she has a number of other political problems to deal with, most notable of these being Brexit.
Also, one of Theresa May’s big propaganda efforts was in the wake of David Cameron’s resignation arguing that the Conservatives were the party of working people. It would seem curious, therefore, for the ‘party of working people’ to begin a war on workers’ rights. Such a battle would prompt mass industrial action and problems for non-unionised workers, which would be a politically risky move for Theresa May who has a history of avoiding political confrontations.
Now is the time for the labour movement to be vigilant in the face of Tory attacks on workers’ rights. We need to make it abundantly clear to anyone grumbling about strikes negatively impacting them that they should be angry, but at the bosses who have continued making huge profits without improving pay and/or conditions. The workers of this country have endured miserable pay and conditions since the 2007-8 Great Recession, and union action can be a way of securing their terms of employment. Tories are not the party of workers, they are the party of capital and no amount of propaganda can change that.