Archive for December, 2009

Unions ‘n’ strikes: looking ahead to 2010

Thursday 24 December 2009

Asked recently if the TUC was going to organise a general strike after more government talk of pay restraint, a trade unionist replied : “I think the TUC might go and organise a general panic”. They were joking of course, but next year is not likely to bring mass strikes.

Even if next year’s Budget brings in pay and job cuts for the public sector, unions concerned will not have the luxury of concentrating their energy on fighting for jobs and pay. The PCS, with over 200,000 civil service members, is busy plotting legal and industrial action over cuts to Whitehall redundancy pay, which is expected to form its main campaign at the start of next year.

Unison, Unite and the GMB have public sector members too, notably in local government and health, where pay deals are due to be thrashed out in about four months. But they also have a Labour Party to support and fund, and a general election in three to five months. I’m not saying there won’t be any public sector strikes – that would be a bit rude, it’s down to the members who vote in the end, But Unite is wary of the political implications, and I’d be surprised if the other big unions weren’t.

Two places you can expect strikes in are British Airways, where the cabin crew still want their strike, and… pubs. The GMB is confident that its newly acquired pub landlord members will vote for industrial action against their pubco overlords in a ballot due to be held next month. Incidentally, the GMB, unlike many unions, gained members last year instead of losing them like many others.

Speaking of British Airways, if we’re very lucky we might see the European Court of Justice deliver a verdict on unions’ right to strike vs. free movement of goods and services in the EU. Pilots’ union BALPA, whose members in BA wanted to strike last year but were prevented from doing so in the High Court, is awaiting the outcome.

Oh and did someone mention Royal Mail…?

Right, that’s enough, it’s Christmas Eve already. What do you mean what about the Conservatives. Go and read a proper blog why don’t you. I’ve got presents to wrap. Meanwhile here’s some Christmas cheer as we wait to come out of recession. Good night. This blog will return in the New Year. Probably.


Unite BA strike ballot: an accident waiting to happen?

Friday 18 December 2009

Just been watching Newsnight’s take on the High Court’s decision to injunct Unite from sending BA cabin crew on strike. There was a bit of discussion about whether this had anything to do with the Unite general secrtary election but it was all speculation.

What’s a bare fact though is the following: the High Court granted the injunction on the basis that the ballot included workers who were leaving the company.

Frnkly I’m surprised this hasn’t happened before. Unite has long-standing difficulties in keeping track of its membership. Last year its annual return to the trade union certification officer showed that over 300,000 names had been wiped – much more than redundancies would allow for. Some of those names had undoubtedly left the union, died or both. Addresse don’t always get changed and email addresses are in short supply – less than a quarter of the membership have valid email details on record.

So keeping track of who’s in the bargaining pool and who isn’t is by no means an easy task, and BA spotted an opportunity. None of this can deny, of course, the overwhelming mandate for strike action delivered by the 92 per ceent strike vote. But time and again, when strike plans fail, they fail on a technicality.  It’s no indictment of Unite’s industrial relations policy to say that better record keeping would have prevented this.