The laws governing strike action are rarely discussed around the family dinner table but they should be. The right to strike is an important principle that should not be abandoned and trade unions play a vital role in representing the views of their members. However, they are less impressive when they ignore the interests of those who are not members of the union but who go to work day in, day out.
Recent statistics published by the Office for National Statistics show that the number of working days lost due to labour disputes in 2014 was 788,000, an increase of more than 77% on the previous year. Rules that require at least 50% of members to turn out and 40% of those eligible to vote for strike action are not only fair to those who would be affected, they are reasonable when you consider that many within the union itself do not vote for strike action.
Take for example the fact that almost three years ago a strike was held by the National Union of Teachers, despite only 22% of all NUT members voting for strike action. How about a strike which took place more recently by the staff of NHS England, where just 11% of members agreed to take part? When over 80% of union members who don not vote to strike are ignored, is strike action really justified?
Both of these strikes, and even last year's tube strike, could have been avoided. It would have saved millions of working people, as well as the vast majority of union members, the mayhem and misery that strikes in vital public services cause. Yet what has been the response of the unions? In the last few days the Unite union has passed a motion to remove a clause from its rule book requiring strikes to remain within the law. A second 24 hour strike has also been planned for 5th August.
If the Government is to act fairly it should strive to help those who work, not just those who claim to represent them. Reforming, and indeed strengthening, strike laws should be one major component of that strategy. The Government’s proposals to raise the ballot thresholds will mean fewer strikes and less economic disruption. Working people and the country as a whole will benefit.