What a load of ballots!

21st July 2014

The TUC on Friday issued a press release in support of the demand for secure electronic voting in strike ballots.

Swansea Socialist Party discussed how to take forward the campaign to halt the continuing decline of our pay, following the J10 strike,last week. This idea of electronic voting as a means of boosting turnout in strike ballots came up in the discussion.

While everybody agreed that different means to boosting participation in strike ballots should be explored this would still not address the main problem trade union activists have with the way strike votes are conducted. Workers would still vote in isolation on whether or not to take collective action.

While the numbers voting might increase, unless a way is found to link a change in voting system to encouraging more union members to take an active part in the debate on action, through workplace meetings, etc then the increase in union democracy would be minimal.

The TUC's suggestion is driven by the Con-Dems' public proposals to introduce qualifying thresholds for participation in strike ballots. Labour has yet to formally make public it's position but Miliband has hinted at considering similar ideas in the past.

Labour's refusal to stand with low-paid trade unionists on J10 - they dithered, before coming out with a position of 'we neither condemn nor support' - coupled with the failure of the last government, despite a Labour majority for 13 years, to repeal any of the anti-union laws, means it wouldn't be much of a surprise if Labour win the election and we still get Tory ballot thresholds. After all, if Labour win, we'll still get Tory cuts!

Strike ballots compare favourably in terms of participation and majorities with the numbers voting for councillors who are carrying out millions of pounds worth of cuts to services and who are responsible for the attacks on pay that many of the J10 strikers were protesting.

But the best answer to attacks on the legitimacy of the J10 ballots is the numbers of union members who confirmed the the ballot result by taking part in the strike action. No politician can even dream of ever getting a majority anywhere near the percentages of union members who sacrificed a day's pay in taking strike action.

If the next government, whether it's Tory, Labour or some combination of either with the Lib Dems, does bring in strike ballot thresholds, it may be a two-edged sword for them as trade unionists will not be prepared to be shackled in the face of continued attacks on our living standards. Brian Caton, the former POA General Secretary, pointed out at NSSN Conference, that the outlawing of strikes by prison officers by the last Labour Government hasn't stopped the POA from taking effective action and in some ways, has liberated them from having to get round all the procedural obstacles placed in the way of striking.

In ten months' time Labour politicians will be asking for trade unionists' votes and support despite their failure to support us on J10 or any other action we've taken against low pay and cuts. The only candidates that will unequivocally back trade unionists' struggles, fight to defeat attacks on trade unionists and support making anti-trade union laws unworkable will be TUSC ones.

Ronnie Job
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