Labour must get the anti-union laws off workers’ backs!

By Mark Osborn, NEU rep at City of London Academy (Southwark)

The National Education Union at CoLA took three days of strike action in March. We took one day of action on the first week, two days the next week and the union told our Head we would be out for three days every week until our demands were met.

We were striking in support of a large number of staff who had failed performance management and had been denied pay progression, and others who had been put on performance improvement plans.

We won. That’s a testament to the long-term work that has gone on, over many years, to build a very strong, democratic union inside the Academy. And the determination of the two young women teachers who were our reps last year.

Nevertheless, at every turn, our school group was restricted by the anti-union laws. At the end of November 2017 over 60 teachers had voted to strike — almost unanimously — at our school meeting. But it took over three months to navigate the ridiculous postal balloting regulations and actually start our action.

When we started our action 45 teachers turned up, each day, to our picket line. It was a massive show of strength. Unfortunately the national NEU felt obliged to help management by restricting those members directly picketing to six (everyone else stood by the road-side and waved to parents and passers-by). The restriction on picketing is also part of the raft of anti-union laws passed by the Tories (and then maintained by New Labour) after 1980.

The anti-union laws prohibit solidarity action (miners striking for nurses) and political strikes (for example, action against Apartheid which took place in the 1980s would now be illegal). Unions can be hit with massive fines if they break these laws.

The anti-union laws need repealing and replacing with a positive set of rights for workers: the right to join a union, organise and strike; the right to union representation and recognition; the right to take action when and where we need to; and the right to picket effectively.

Last year’s Labour Party conference passed policy to repeal all the anti-union laws. Unfortunately the Labour leadership seem set on only getting rid of the 2016 Trade Union Act. The Party needs to campaign this its policy and repeal all the anti-union legislation when it forms the next government. The unions need to demand this clearly and vocally.

Union members should raise the issue in their union and those who are in the Labour party can help by raising this inside the Party’s structures and with their Labour MP.

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