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UK Conservatives Move To Make Public Sector Strikes ‘Almost Impossible’

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation

Britain’s newly elected Conservative government has hit the ground running with a new bill to restrict the ability of public sector unions to strike.

The Trade Union Bill would require a minimum turnout of 50 percent and the backing of at least 40 percent of eligible members to make a public sector strike legal. The legislation would compel public sector unions to give 14 days notice before a strike can take place, and employers would be allowed to employ agency workers for the duration of the strike.

The opposition Labour Party and labor unions alike launched into attacks on the bill. The General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress, Frances O’Grady, said the Conservatives’ policy would “make it almost impossible for workers to exercise what is their democratic right and civil liberty”.

Writing in the Huffington Post, she added the bill “proves that they have no interest in the legitimacy of any strike, or in any reasonable worker grievances. They are simply determined to undermine the balance of power between workers and employers any which way they can.”

But the new rules won’t just limit the ability of unions to disrupt essential public services, they could hammer the Labour party’s largest source of funding. Under the current system, unions affiliated to the Labour Party automatically enroll their members into paying a political levy. Unions such as Unite use these levies to fund the Labour Party as well as a host of other left-wing causes.

Under the new rules, members would have to opt in to paying the levy which would likely lead to a massive drop off in political funds for the unions and in turn the Labour Party. In 2014, union money accounted for 58 percent of the Labour Party’s funding.

Defending the proposals at Prime Minister’s Question’s David Cameron told the House of Commons “If you want to give money to a party it should be an act of free will – not something that is taken out of your pay packet without you being told about it properly.”

While minimum thresholds for public sector strike action are not on the agenda in the U.S., some advocacy groups are sympathetic to the reforms. Greg Mourad, Vice President of Legislation, National Right to Work Committee told TheDCNF “the government has no business bargaining with unions at all. Every citizen should have an equal voice as to how their tax dollars are spent, but union monopoly bargaining essentially shuts everyone else out of the discussion.”

“Furthermore public sector strikes should not be allowed at all, but even when they are prohibited by law, Big Labor has regularly shown a total disregard for the law, calling strikes whenever it suited them, and making amnesty for the strikers a condition of ending the strike,” he added.

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