As has been rumbling beneath the surface for a while, the Tories have now pledged to implement a 50 per cent turnout threshold for strikes, alongside a three-month time limit on the duration of industrial action mandates. If the party makes it into office after the next election, it will introduce these measures.
The PoliticsHome website is reporting this morning that the Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude told House magazine that the case has been made for these reforms due to unions causing “serious disruption” by “consistently coming again and again, on the basis of very low turnouts, and deciding to call their members out”.
The TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady told the same magazine that the proposals are “out of touch” and questioned why there should be “one test of a democratic ballot for trade unions, and an entirely different, easier test for politicians”.
The Lib Dems have blocked these reforms while they’re still in government, but it’s more interesting to see how Labour can respond to such a pledge from the Tories.
The reality is that strike action in recent years in this country has not been devastatingly disruptive, and is also relatively rare. The Tories’ move is an ideological one, and also one that could gain quite a bit of traction with their voters, and perhaps those floating into Ukip territory. It is a politically-driven decision rather than one responding to any walkouts putting the country to a standstill.
This makes Labour’s position more tricky. As although it rightly does not see the case for change in strike laws, it will nevertheless need to respond in a nuanced way to the Conservative party’s pledge. It can’t just attack the Tories on ideological grounds, as it has already made some headway in weakening the influence of the unions over its own party and decision-making.
If it all-out attacks the Tories, it may undermine some of its intentions there, which were forged in such tricky, sensitive circumstances, almost risking “a civil war in the Labour movement”. So Ed Miliband should tread carefully when responding to these plans.