The Conservatives have pledged to put in their next manifesto a requirement for strike ballots to have a turnout of 50% to be valid. Turnout thresholds are not used in public elections here in Britain – and many local councillors and the Police & Crime Commissioners as well as some MPs have been elected on a less than 50% turnout. So it would be inconsistent in the extreme to impose turnout thresholds on independent, non-governmental organisations such as trade unions. It illustrates the anti-union mentality that flows through the Tory hierarchy. Remember – employers can often autocratically make decisions without any form of balloting or consultation and there are very few safeguards against them abusing their powers.
Given the requirement to send postal ballots to people’s home addresses, and the fact that many people don’t tell their trade union when they move house or change job within the same organisation, imposing an artificial 50% threshold is designed more or less to take away workers’ right to strike. A right to strike is an important right in any free society. Workers need to have the freedom to withdraw their labour to express their concerns and to press for better terms and conditions for themselves and others. It is only by withdrawing their labour that workers can show the importance of the tasks they do to their employer and to society as a whole.
One of the basic tenets of trade unionism is that workers can get a better deal for themselves and their colleagues via collective bargaining – where terms & conditions are set by negotiation with the employers – than by a system of individual bargaining. The individual worker is in a very weak position when negotiating with an employer. He or she normally has to take or leave what the employer offers. However, by bargaining collectively, workers can get a better deal. The decline of trade unions since 1979 and the existing legislation passed restricting them has meant that wages at the bottom have stagnated while the fruits of economic growth go to those who are already rich. It is important to spread collective bargaining throughout the economy, as it is only by doing so that the “cost of living crisis” can be tackled.
Given that the benefits of collective bargaining accrue to all workers in a workplace, whether trade union members or not, there is a strong case for restoring the rights of workers to have a ‘closed shop’ in their workplace so that people can bargain collectively effectively, without some workers taking advantage of what the union does while not being members and not standing in solidarity with their colleagues. In such a situation, any ballot will be representative of the views of the workforce – whether they are for, against or wish to abstain.