Unite say they won’t be bound by strike laws. Does Labour think this is ok? Seriously?

by David Green

The most remarkable thing about Unite’s decision to remove the words “so far as may be lawful” from its constitution is how little comment it has attracted in the Labour party.

The union’s opposition to new Tory plans for minimum strike ballot thresholds is understandable, right, and will be supported by the Labour party at large. But what is unsupportable is the union’s declaration that it will not regard itself as being bound by the new legislation.

Indeed, the constitutional change goes much further than this – worryingly so. On its face, the change means Unite will pick and choose the laws it deigns to obey.

This is dismaying in any major civil society body, but for a formal affiliate of the Labour party it is intolerable. Labour is – must be – a party of government, one which aspires to lead and not simply to oppose. A necessary part of this is that we seek change through reforms within the UK’s political system.

Unfortunately for all concerned Labour didn’t win the last election, and the Tories did. All the bleating about mandates in the world can’t change the fact that they have an absolute majority in the UK’s sovereign parliament: any legislation they can pass is the law. Labour believes – must believe – that even the most iniquitous law must be remedied by being repealed by parliament. Endorsing any other approach undermines the principle of the rule of law, on which all of the rest of society’s stability and freedom depends.

Labour is now put in a position where one of the major parts of its family – an affiliate with votes at its conference and seats on its national executive committee – has a fundamentally different conception of the means by which reform is achieved.

And Unite isn’t just setting its face against the law: it is a statement of intent for illegality, not limited (on the plain wording of the change) to strike ballot thresholds, but to every law with which the union interacts. Some Labour members may harbour sympathies on strike ballots: they should consider how they would feel, and the position the party would be put in, when the change was used to put the union’s official imprimatur on actions which break laws against intimidation, trespass or property damage in the course of strike action.

This is not fanciful – it is a small step from the “leverage” actions taken by Unite demonstrators in Falkirk at the homes of Ineos managers to action that would open pickets to criminal prosecution. Potential encouraging and assisting offences could be committed, all by senior union officials also holding office in the party.

This sort of liability was raised in 2012 in a comparatively minor spat in which the High Court restrained the Chairman of private hire firm Addison Lee from encouraging his drivers to use bus lanes in London: we shouldn’t think that the courts would be shy just because Len McCluskey makes grandiose statements comparing his planned “civil disobedience” to the suffragettes.

Ultimately Labour has to decide what sort of party it is, and whether the route to its promised land lies through the order of reform and government, or the chaos proposed by Unite. And once it has done so, it should be loud and proud of reminding all members of the movement to get on the same page.

 Dave Green is a Labour party member, and a teaching fellow in Law at SOAS

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18 Responses to “Unite say they won’t be bound by strike laws. Does Labour think this is ok? Seriously?”

  1. Timmy says:

    Suspending Unite from affiliation and all contact with the Party and it’s officers until it removes that clause help?

  2. Henrik says:

    ….and Labour, well, Unite, stomps happily into yet another elephant trap. Honestly, there’s no sport to this, is there?

    Look out for all sorts of shenanigans the first time Unite bods end up in court for illegal activity, in particular, watch the despair on the faces of the Shadow Front Bench as they desperately try to come up with some sort of comment….

    I can hardly wait.

  3. Adam Hyde says:

    I don’t think the Tories plans on unions are fair, but they are exploiting the fact low turnout is a serious issue in these ballots.

    Labour is becoming more militant every day. Corbyn’s the root. He’s militant, radical left, and alarmingly anti-politics. The people he’s bringing into the party and the feelings he’s evoking are making people less and less interested in the rules as they used to see them. To the most part that’s just people making up brand new unfathomable economic rules. Worryingly, the Corbyn cult don’t seem as though they’d complain too much about a full-blown class war, in which laws mean nothing.

  4. Fred says:

    This article was so obviously written by a red tory stooge!

    VOTE CORBYN to vanquish the apologists.

  5. Matthew Blott says:

    I’m not much of a Unite fan (its leadership at least) and I’m not sure where I stand on this but I would ask the question: when do Uncutters think civil disobedience is acceptable? If the sort of laws being considered by the Tories were implemented in, say, Turkey I suspect some of the Labour Right might be more sympathetic to (and may even support) those that chose to disobey the law.

  6. Funny David, as without the fight against the Taff Railway dispute judgement Labour would probably never have achieved becoming a major force in British politics. Looks like the Tories are looking for another fight. Let’s hope that the labour movement fights sensibly and united, although it looks like David may not take part on our side.

  7. Edit: Or even the Taff Vale Railway.

  8. Trish says:

    Don’t be duped by Unite’s empty talk and gesture politics. In recent years McCluskey has dined out on headlines about civil disobedience and general strikes which never happen. Now this latest attention seeking charade about acting outside the law. When the chips were down at Gate Gourmet and Ineos we saw that such tough talk counts for nothing. Fanciful? Not half.

  9. Dave C says:

    So in your opinion the Tolpuddle Martyrs deserved everything they got!!!

    All this anti union laws now being rammed through Parliament is only a repetition of what the Tories tried to do in the 1860’s, 1900’s, 1920’s and the 1940’s. It was only unions fighting on behalf of the membership that stopped them in their tracks.

    History is a marvelous thing, it has a habit of repeating itself

  10. Tafia says:

    Unite will just end up bankrupted with their funds sequestered.

    Thatcher sequestered merseyde Council’s money oin the 1980’s and bankrupted it. This government is far more right wing than Thatcher ever dreamed of and bankrupting a union is nowhere near as morally questionable as bankrupting a council.

    Good look to them – but they’ll fail. The government has the law on it’s side – and if it doesn’t work the government can change them, till they do.

  11. John P Reid says:

    Fred, if unite did this and Corbyn became leader, would he denounce them, or Cooper, wins and she’s called Ramsey mcCooper within months,as was kinnock over not being able to support Scargills illegal,nin balloting of members

  12. John P Reid says:

    Fred, labours definition is democratic socialist, if unite break the law on union laws,then there’re the ones who aren’t real labour,by being undemocratic

  13. Tafia says:

    It’s also becoming quite comical now – all these warnings that if Corbyn wins Labour won’t win the next election. This is Blairist apologists deflecting attention from the fact that none of the other three will win the next election either – or the one after.

    Out of the other three Burnham is the only one even remotely likely to do well and he will be torn to shreds by the press and at PMQs constantly over mid-Staffs and that’s all he deserves.

    Cooper is carrying a concrete albatross round her neck called Ed Balls and Kendall is one of the most awe-inspiringly out of depth candidates I have ever seen standing for anything.

    Then there’s the little fact that the other three are duplicitous, untrustworthy and shallow cheap rubbish, more interested in their pay pockets than their party – they were quite happy to hold posts under Ed M and endorse his policies – the man they are now knifing at every opportunity and whose policies they are rubbishing.

    Labour will lose in 2020 and probably lose in 2025 with any of those four. Instead of trying to work out which one will win you an election (which is truly living in cloud cuckoo land), start working out which one will oppose the tories most effectively – and that’s Corbyn.

  14. paul barker says:

    Of course its probably macho bluster but its dangerous bluster. As an ex-trot myself I would think that even some on the Far Left would see this as adventurism. Unions survive because of a deal with society -Unions obey the Law like good citizens & in return are protected from civil action. For the Unions its a pretty good deal, tear it up & they are open to being sued for unlimited damages. How much do you think the recent tube strikes in London cost firms operating in the centre ?
    Unites posturing isnt just immoral & dishonest, its incredibly stupid.

  15. Madasafish says:

    Stephen Kinnock for PM in 2025.. ##

    Remember : you read it here first..

    ## I may be dead by then…

  16. swatantra says:

    I will not be renewing my membership of UNITE until McCluskey is replaced by a moderate with a bit of common sense. The Law may be an ass at times, but it does mean you are free to discard it at will. Its the sort of thing that leads to ‘flying pickets’ and miners throwing chunks of concrete off bridges and intimidating those that may for reasons f their own want to work, and victimisation. These are the unacceptable faces of TU-ism. Yes you have a right to protest, but in a reasonable manner.

  17. swatantra says:

    edit … should have read ‘…but does it you are free to discard …etc’

    Any chance of getting an EDIT button on UNCUT, like all the other respectable blogsites have?

    @ madasfish … awlrrighht!lll

  18. John P Reid says:

    Matthew blot regarding quoting another country,no sying some of the labour right (maybe even consider civil disobedience)

    I’m reminded of Cantlrbury Labour candidate ex SWP man, Andy Newman, who wrote an article in 2009 which he repeated last year about Tianaman square massacre of 1989
    Apparently those protesting weren’t doing it for democracy, but were ‘far right’ cPitList supporters, trying to undermine, the wonderful communist regime, and the communist government, who were concerned with its citizens lovely situation they had under communism where the state controlled their wage,so there weren’t any unemployed,and that the military murdering the protesters,were actually fighting for the people to continue to enjoy the Communism they had,and not the far right ultra capitalism, the protesters were trying to thrust down the populations throats

    So if there’s a case of civil disobedience abroad, and it’s like there being a threshold for voting,and the fact unite think,this law is wrong so they’ll disobey,then if the labour right would support it abroad it’s worth knowing,some on the labour far left,think,civil disobedience a road is wrong,

    By the way,if there were flying pickets, on a unlawful strike,if unite didn’t get the number of votes for a strike but came out anyway, at least the massive cuts too police,men,that they wouldn’t be able to break the picket line,to allow those who would have voted to work,to be able to get too work,

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