Unions wary of new UK anti-strike plans

LONDON, 7 Jan 2023:

Anti-strike legislation proposed by the UK’s Conservative Party government is “extremist” and “anti-democratic,” trade union leader Mick Lynch said yesterday.

Perhaps the UK’s most famous union leader, this outspoken but even-tempered secretary-general of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) spoke after joining a picket line outside London’s Euston station – as 40,000 rail workers put down their tools for 48 hours in the latest strike action.

Rail workers are just one industry in a long list of strike action across sectors – including ambulance drivers, healthcare workers and teachers – all of whom are calling for improved working conditions and pay amid a cost of living crisis.

After a period of apparent inaction, Britain’s conservative prime minister Rishi Sunak said the government would schedule new meetings with union representatives next week.

However, he also announced new anti-strike laws to ensure “minimum levels of service.”

Details are scant, but the government said it would soon submit the legislation to parliament, and said it would affect several sectors including rail, firefighters and ambulances.

“It’s unjust and a brutal suppression of human rights,” Lynch said yesterday. He said the government’s “interference” in negotiations between unions and 14 rail operator companies was down to “ideological motives” from the Conservative Party.

The RMT chief described the government’s “attacks” on the union movement as the worst since Margaret Thatcher’s policies in the 1980s, the decade of the miner’s strikes.

In his view, the government “hates” unions and when the working class organises. “We’re hoping the government will have something new to say (on Monday) but at the moment there are no negotiations until that meeting.

“They could have had negotiations all through Christmas, this week, but they chose not to do that. We think they did that because they wanted to announce new anti-trade union laws that will suppress the rights of trade unions in the country.”

Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party – who has distanced himself from the unions even though they continue to finance the party – has claimed he would reverse Sunak’s anti-strike laws if elected.