As the new anti-trade union laws have been announced to the cheers and cries of baying Tory MPs, one has to ask what it is that inspires such a level of fear in the Members on the right of the House.
Is it the memory of the defeats to the miners in 1972 and 1974, the latter which led to the destruction of a Conservative government?
Or is it knowing, regardless of the many attempts to airbrush the history surrounding the Great Miners’ Strike of 1984 - 85, that even a week's worth of solidarity action from another large union like the NUR would have brought a worried and weakened Thatcher to her knees?
I’ve watched with great interest the reaction of Tory members to these plans – shouts and jeers that Labour’s paymasters are finally to be pulled into line, one half swearing blind that strikes never have and never will give any form of victory to a worker. The other half determined to prove that strikes are a threat to the national economy – something which gets treated more and more like a god figure which cannot be angered in any form by all main parties – that new laws MUST be brought in if any of us are to be in a job this time next year.
These new laws are simple and plain – a threat.
A threat and a very real warning shot.
Thatcher did not pass a bill that took away the rights of unions overnight. She would have been faced with a general strike of all the nation’s big unions and the government would have crumbled.
Should they win in 2015, Cameron’s government plans not only copy Thatcher’s idea but to also test if the unions have the ability or willingness to fight. Thatcher has already left us with much more than scarred unions unwilling to seriously take on governments or, in many cases, even employers.
She left a legacy of blue party members who refuse to read the real history of the last great confrontation of working class power – the Great Miners’ Strike. The idea that Saint Maggie led a glorious crusade against the most fearsome dragon of all, the organised worker. A legacy many in the party are itching to repeat – whether they want to bring in police violence and the use of state power against strikers is not touched upon, at this point.
These wary probes into the resistance of unions are dangerous. It asks a question that needs addressing – can trade unions mount a serious challenge to these laws?
Large union leaders, such as Len McCluskey, have regularly stepped in and blocked strike action, leaving wounded union members at the mercy of their employers as their one line of obstruction to slashing wages and working conditions is removed.
These are, of course, the same union bosses who earn huge amounts of money – Len recently got a rise which took his wage to £145,000 per annum – and thump their chests, wailing about the general strike.
These days, a war cry for a general strike is the one-stop shop to raising your popularity.
Though if we’re ever going to see one is far beyond me.
By Gareth Shanks