This from Left Foot Forward:
The Telegraph reports that Conservative ministers are plotting to curb union strike powers “to avoid a second winter of discontent”. It says: “Ministers have held secret meetings to block nationwide strikes this autumn as departments enforce spending cuts of up to 40 per cent and the loss of up to a million public sector jobs… Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, held a meeting with Boris Johnson 10 days ago to discuss the need for new rules on industrial action supported by only a small proportion of the workforce. The Mayor of London was sounded out and asked for advice because of his experience in dealing with unions during two years in office, including the RMT rail union’s strikes affecting the London Underground last year.” A Tory source told the Telegraph the Cabinet is “feeling inclined to be very bullish and aggressive” about confronting any strikes. The reports adds that the government is “under pressure from senior business figures to change the rules to allow striking workers to be replaced with agency employees” and that unions “could also be made legally liable for the consequences of strikes”.
This move has been of course entirely predictable for some time, not merely because of the rampant hostility to independent organisations of the working class amongst Tory figures but to ease the path of the age of austerity. In order to successfully implement their class warfare budget, the Tories face an obstacle in the combined trade union movement. This obstacle is not what it once was: weakened by 25 years of defeats, Thatcher’s anti-union laws, significantly smaller and with leaderships consequently less inclined toward militancy. Even with these qualifications they pose a problem for the Tory/ Liberal Democrat agenda of an all out, ideological assault on public spending. Whilst union membership is only 15% in the private sector, in the public sector 55% of employees are in a union, and I would be surprised if right now many more are not signing up.
Socialists must continue to give their full backing to trade union struggles, specifically those that defend their already limited legal position and oppose the victimisation and vilification of trade unionists, who will no doubt be painted by the Tory media as a fifth column determined to bring down Britain from within by opposing measures in the ‘national interest’ (even though of course they are no such thing).
As if we did not need reminding, the next period will be a time of defensive struggles, not offensive ones, in Britain.