The recent rules conference held by Unite made a major change to it's rule book, one that caught attention of the press. They have removed just six words from their rule book:
"so far as may be lawful"
A direct challenge to the proposed crackdown on union strike ballots by the Tory Government due to be introduced to Parliament on Wednesday. The proposed legislation will require a higher threshold for strike action to be "legitimate".
Len McCluskey warned:
"Unite is not going to see itself rendered toothless by passively submitting to unjust laws"
Fighting talk that may well eventually lead to a major confrontation with the government. The question is going not only to be when but how will this effect the Labour Party as it tries to rise from the ashes of defeat at the last election.
We have been in a similar situation before. The great miners strike of the 1980's which led to not just defeat of the NUM abut also saw the beginning of the decline of trade unions in the UK, particularly those in the private sector. The trade union is nearly half the size of what is was then and it's reach is highly limited to the public sector.
This comes at a time when the Labour left is reasserting itself through Jeremy Corbyn's campaign for leadership of the Labour Party. Unite has not only thrown it's not inconsiderable weight behind Corbyn, but has signed up around 50,000 of it's members to vote in the leadership election. Of course there is no guarantee of how (or if) these trade unionists will vote but there will be considerable effort put into pushing Corbyn.
How other unions will react is difficult to tell given the conference season is now over and the summer holidays begin as public sector workers consider their future under another four years of pay restricted to 1% pay rises, cuts in tax credits and hikes in rent for those in council housing.
The question of law breaking will prove difficult for other public sector unions, particularly those in the civil service where the largest (PCS) is led by a rumbustious far left leadership.
There is also the question of sequestration something that doesn't appear to have been discussed so far.
Union funds could be seized under existing legislation, causing a raising of the stakes that the government has already appeared to have prepared for.
A number of small scale strikes are already in the offing. PCS has secured a vote to take action in Universal Credit benefit centres over "oppressive regimes" and is seeking further confrontation in the DVLA over Saturday pay.
These localised strikes take place as the government renews it's offensive against the unions initiated by Francis Maude in reaction to PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka attempting to launch a strike on the basis of an 11% turnout in the Border Agency a few years back. The other unions reacted angrily then and the trade union movement is now facing reaping the consequences of such ill considered ultra-leftism.
PCS may well join Unite as discussions for a merger/takeover of their failing. An indication of this was made in a statement issued by the National Shop Stewards Network which is led by amongst others PCS AGS Chris Baugh and PCS Vice President John McInally:
If the Bill is passed, the TUC and the unions must prepare for mass coordinated strike action, including a 24-hour general strike, especially if any union is threatened with legal action because of the new laws.
Whilst immediate confrontation is not on the cards the extreme left will no doubt want to push for action sooner rather than later which will damage not just the unions, but the Labour Party as well.
If we are about to head back to the eighties as Corbyn and the other extremists would have us do the consequences could be dire. Remember the miners lost. The last British coal mine is now closing.
The new proposed new laws are undemocratic but the groundwork must be laid for the rebuilding of the trade union movement in conjunction with the Labour Party, renewing the essential links so that there is a more of a balance between labour and capital for the future.
Most of all the ordinary membership must be taken with them and unions rebuilt in the public sector to end the imbalance that currently exists.
Revolutionary adventurism circumventing the real world is not the answer.
The unions and the Labour Party need renewed political ideas. Currently the trend is backwards.
The Corbyns, the Serwotkas and possibly the McCluskey's are part of the problem not the solution.