Will Cameron introduce new anti-strike laws?

Ministers are considering a new 50% turnout law to restrict strike action.

The decision by PCS union staff to vote in favour of strike action on the eve of the Olympics has revived the debate among Conservatives about whether to tighten the UK's anti-union laws. The latter are already the most restrictive in the western world but Tory MPs want the coalition to go further and ban strikes unless at least 50 per cent of union members participate in the ballot. In the case of the PCS, just 20 per cent did (57 per cent of whom voted in favour of action). Others argue that border guards, like the police, should be banned from striking at all.

Until now, ministers have insisted that they have "no plans" to change the law but today's Telegraph reports that  the government is "now considering legislation to stop unions striking unless more than half their members vote." Aware that Boris Johnson, who has previously called for the introduction of a minimum turnout law, will seize any opportunity to outflank the coalition, Cameron may be tempted to indicate movement on this front.

Then there are those who will only be satisfied if the Prime Minister emulates Ronald Reagan and sacks anyone who participates in the strike. Conservative commentator Donal Blaney declared on Twitter: "Cameron should do a Reagan and fire every single immigration officer who strikes next Thursday. We need to face these selfish militants down". It was in 1981 that the then US president fired 11,000 air traffic controllers who ignored his order to return to work.

Since the PCS, led by Mark Serwotka, is not a Labour-affiliated union, Ed Miliband has found it easier to condemn this strike than others. But if he is retain credibility among the wider union movement, he must voice his opposition to any change in the law.

Up to 5,500 Border Force staff, members of the PCS union, will strike next Thursday. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.