Anneliese Dodds MEP

The South East's Voice in Europe

Defend the right to withhold labour

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Today  -  Wednesday 18th February  -  has been named as an international day of action to defend the right to strike. 

It might seem a bit old-fashioned to be arguing for the right to strike. Surely, in this day and age, both businesses and governments understand the need for employees to be able to undertake industrial action, if all other methods of negotiation have broken down?

Unfortunately though, the most basic working right is now under threat, both internationally and in our own country.

At international level, attempts to make sure the right to strike is included within trade agreements have come under attack from lawyers acting for some employers. This has occurred within the International Labour Organisation- the global body which aims to set fair rules for employees. The current row disrupts what was, for many years, a relatively consensual and pragmatic approach from both employers and trade unions to foster harmonious industrial relations. The European Parliament discussed what could be done to resolve the impasse last week. As the Labour MEP Jude Kirton-Darling put it, "[g]lobal free trade without effective labour rights, including the right to strike, effectively means more downward pressure on wages and unsustainable development". Bizarrely, UKIP's response was to blame trade unions, saying 'It is hard enough getting trade unions to play fair in the UK'!

I hope that today's day of action will increase the pressure on policy-makers to take the sensible, pragmatic approach to this issue, and try and resolve the impasse.

Meanwhile, in Britain, the Conservatives are threatening to effectively remove the right to strike from a huge proportion of the population. They have announced plans, if they get into government this May, to have a minimum of 50% turnout in strike ballots, and to impose additional requirements for health, transport, fire service and education workers, so that any strike affecting them would need the backing of 40% of eligible trade union members.

That threshold would, in practical terms, end the right to strike in the public sector. It would be the only restriction on industrial action of its kind in the entire democratic world. The Tories have made this pledge at the same time as they oppose secure and secret online balloting, which has been proven to increase turnout in ballots.

The Conservatives should, however, be wary of throwing rocks in glass houses. Only 15 Conservative MPs in the UK parliament secured the support of 40% of those entitled to vote in their constituency in 2010. And only 12% of eligible voters voted in a recent election for Police and Crime Commissioners, but the Commissioners were deemed duly elected. To impose these stringent requirements on trade unions is a direct attempt to curtail the democratic rights of working people and a blatant application of double standards.

Disputes at work can, and should, be resolved through negotiation and compromise. Current developments attempt to prevent dissent through intimidation. They have no place in the modern workplace.

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