UK: The anti-union laws and the trade union bureaucracy


UK: The anti-union laws and the trade union bureaucracy

Robert Stevens

15 April 2017

During the ongoing rail workers dispute against the introduction of Driver Only Operated trains (DOO) and in other recent disputes, a regular comment from strikers has been that their struggles are hampered by Britain’s draconian anti-union and anti-strike laws.

Workers have told WSWS reporters that they would support “all out” strikes of drivers and conductors across the many private franchises that operate Britain’s rail network, but then raise that this would be “difficult” and “illegal.”

The extent of anti-strike legislation in the UK is significant. It indicates the degree to which the democratic rights of the working class have been abridged in favour of capital. The Trade Union Act 2016 became law last month—enacted by a Parliament that recently initiated debates aimed at making strikes illegal in key sectors, including transport.

It builds on the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher that enacted the Employment Act of 1980. Under this law the definition of lawful picketing was restricted to an employee’s own place of work. The right to take secondary action (to strike in support of other workers) was restricted. The Employment Act of 1982 imposed further restrictions. With the 1990 Employment Act, all secondary action was made illegal.

But the reality is that this legislation has rarely been legally enforced because the ruling elite have relied on the Labour and trade union bureaucracy to impose their dictates.

Way back in April 1982, the Trades Union Congress Special Conference voted to oppose the 1982 Act. In the 35 years since, no industrial action has ever been called in defiance of the laws. In fact, the unions, with the exception of only a…

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