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Paul T Horgan: The union argument equating strike ballots with democratic elections is bogus


Readers of this blog who are also parents may have been recently inconvenienced by having to look after their children due to a walkout by members of the National Union of Teachers. They will have been made aware that this industrial action, like all strikes, was as a result of a ballot by union members. What is also clear is that the proportion of union members eligible to vote in a strike ballot that actually supported this strike action was only 22 per cent. For some reason more union members abstained from voting than actually voted to strike. The turnout was a mere 27 per cent.

The Government, recognising that strike action is being driven by an activist minority of the members, has promised to require that instead of a simple majority supporting a strike,  the turnout in a ballot would have to be more than half the members balloted. In addition the majority would have to consist of greater than half the workforce.

The unions, quite naturally, oppose such a measure as it clearly takes away power from the activists and redistributes it to the moderate majority. In their defence they argue that the strike ballot test is more severe than that required by politicians to get elected.

This is actually a dangerous and silly argument. It equates and thus elevates union strike ballots to the level of national and local elections. It tries to increase the stature of union leaders back to the levels they enjoyed in the era of Gormley, Scanlon and Jones.

Worse still, this argument appears to have the sympathy of some Tory backbenchers. Mark Garnier, known for his forensic destruction of bankers’ defence of their failures as a member of the Treasury Select Committee, stated on the BBC during the most recent day of stoppages by state sector workers that politicians pushing for such thresholds would be in ‘slightly dodgy ground’ criticising the overall numbers of union members backing strike action, with a turnout of just 65 per cent at the last general election, 30 per cent in district council elections and just 15 per cent in police and crime commissioner elections.

Strike ballots of union members cannot and should not be equated to national and local elections for many reasons. The unique common feature is that a vote is cast secretly. That alone does not make the unions’ argument.  It is typical muddled socialist thinking to believe that it does. Once again socialists try to portray equality where none actually exists.

What is surprising and disappointing is that the unions’ case appears to have been accepted uncritically by the broadcast media, politicians and also Conservative commentators. There appears to have been no disagreement by anyone with the unions’ case for this undeserved equal treatment. This is despite the fact that there are several obvious differences between strike ballots and elections. Here are just a few:

  1. Elections are managed by the politically neutral Electoral Commission and Local Authorities. Union strike ballots are managed by the Electoral Reform Society, political pressure group.
  2. Elections are exclusively about electing individuals or lists of individuals to an office or position. Union strike ballots are about a proposition, namely to strike or not to strike.
  3. Elections are part of democratic rights achieved over the centuries. Union strike ballots in their current form were legally imposed by the Thatcher government in response to historic disruption and flagrant abuses of process that permanently damaged the UK economy. They ensure that the membership can make a decision in a free and fair fashion and not by a show of hands in a works car park as used to be the case. If the unions could, they would not hold them.
  4. Elections are held on the basis of universal adult suffrage. Union strike ballots are restricted to people that the union says are their members. The wider public, who are impacted by the strike action, have absolutely no say in the matter.
  5. Elections relate to the positive activity of determining the policies a simple majority of constituents agree on to build a better country. Union strike ballots are exclusively concerning the negative activity of refusing to go to work, sanctioning a destructive and disruptive activity that destroys real value and creates inconvenience to the general public.
  6. Elections are politically neutral. Strike ballots are called by a politicised union leadership that actually wants a strike.

As far as I can see, no-one in the media or the Conservative Party is making these points clearly. The argument of the Left is presently unchallenged. While some may not bother to refute the unions’ case because it is clear that it has no merit, the lack of such a challenge only gives credence to the unions’ bogus position.

The unions actually have no case and this should be pointed out every time they try to make it. If they want to cause disruption and inconvenience to the people of this country, the unions must have the mandate of the explicit votes of the majority of their members to do so. At present this is not happening. Once again socialists have fudged imposed democracy to serve their narrow political ends. The Tories plan to correct this misbehaviour in the next parliament.

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Paul T Horgan
Paul T Horgan
Paul T Horgan worked in the IT Sector. He lives in Berkshire.

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