A clever-dick lawyer on the airwaves today was solemnly warning trade unionists that they must be more careful in the way they comply with labour laws governing strikes – as “part of the price they pay for some of the privileges they have”.
M’learned friend was talking in the context of the latest court ruling that blocked the proposed 20 days of strike action by the Unite union’s BA cabin crew – the 5,000 members of the Daily Mail-reading Bassa section who are fighting an uphill battle to preserve their pay and conditions.
What a load of pompous self-serving nonsense! I hope BA didn’t pay him for this stuff. He’ll be persuading chief executive Willie Walsh to let him try to injunct that Icelandic volcano next. After all, it’s been disrupting BA flights too.
What happened in Mr Justice McCombe’s court yesterday – now subject to an attempted appeal today – was as foolish and wrong as the union says it was: a “landmark attack” on its right to take industrial action.
In his judgment –and in mine – the injunction was wrong because:
…..what it does is throw into stark relief the increasing difficulty facing unions seeking to use their legal rights to withhold their labour. In a free society, that’s wrong and I am disappointed – rather than surprised – that the civil liberties lobby does not display alarm today. As I type the issue is not on the front of Liberty’s website.
White is not necessarily on the side of those who are proposing to take strike action, but he recognises that that this is not really the issue.
Do I think the strike is a smart thing to do by staff whose terms and conditions are better than those of many rival airlines at a time when the industry is in deep trouble around the world for a host of reasons, not all of them volcanic? No. But that’s not the point. In Willie Walsh they face a tough manager who says he does not want to break BA’s unions but makes a good stab at sounding as if he does – as Dan Milmo explains in today’s Guardian.
Grievance needs to have an outlet – however irritating and inconvenient to customers – or it will develop into more damaging trends. Among other things this government was elected to show more sensitivity to civil liberties than the last lot.
Ending complicity in rendition, torture, bugging and the denial of bed and breakfast to gay couples are all part of that agenda, the part that most exercises the imagination of middle-class campaigners. But trade union rights matter too.
I do not believe that this government will be willing to show any great sensitivity to union rights, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt – for the time being, at least.