Workers across the UK have intensified their agitation against the ‘Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill’ that is being pushed by the Rishi Sunak-led Tory government. On Monday, January 16, trade unions, social movements, and progressive political groups staged a demonstration outside Downing Street while the second reading of the bill was on at the House of Commons.
Members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers (RMT), Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), Unite the Union, Unison, Communication Workers Union (CWU), University and College Union (UCU), Equity, and others participated in the protest and denounced the bill.
The bill would allow the state and employers to demand workers in England, Scotland, and Wales ensure minimum service during trade union strikes in eight key sectors. These include health, ambulance, fire and rescue, security, education, and transport. It has also been reported that the bill would empower bosses to sack workers who refuse to provide a minimum level of service during walkouts across key sectors and sue trade unions in court both to prevent strikes and claim damages.
The Tory government has come up with this anti-worker bill—which has been criticized as an attack on the right to strike—even as there has been a wave of strikes and protests to demand a wage hike that can deal with the impact of inflation.
In July 2022, the Tory-majority House of Commons had passed a series of regulations that increased fines against unions for industrial actions that were deemed “illegal.” This included the notorious ‘Scab Charter,’ or the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2022, which allowed agency workers to replace workers on strike.
On Monday, RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said “The government has decided to bring in this anti-worker law because it wants to make effective strike action illegal in Britain. Trade unionists and democrats from across the political spectrum must come together in the interests of civil liberties and human rights to oppose these measures.”
“This violation of democratic norms and values will be strongly opposed by the RMT and the entire labor movement, in Parliament, the courts, and the workplace, if it is put on the statute books,” he added.
In a statement, the Young Communist League (YCL-Britain) said: “While nothing new and building on decades of attempts to destroy Britain’s labor movement, this latest attack demonstrates just how seriously the ruling class and their government are taking the current wave of strike action and increasing industrial militancy across Britain.”
The YCL also drew attention to the fact that the government has also been considering other anti-strike measures, including “an even higher strike ballot threshold in the public and private sectors, forcing unions to provide even more notice of strike action, even tighter rules on picketing, and allowing employers to bypass unions during pay negotiations.”