A worker's right to withdraw labour is a fundamental one, recognized internationally for generations. Indeed, the International Labour Organisation's Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention of 1948 was formally adopted by Clement Attlee's post-war Labour government of 1945-51.
It is the right to withdraw labour that maintains a balance of power in the workplace and it is this right that has given employees the ability to achieve better working conditions and better living standards for them and their families.
However, over the last 200 years Conservative governments have repeatedly sought to undermine this right and the current Tory government's Trade Union Bill seriously threatens it once again, attacking it simultaneously from numerous different directions.
Section 2 of the Bill introduces a 50% turnout requirement in strike ballots, whilst Section 3 goes further, setting an even higher bar in "important public services" where 40% of those balloted must vote in favour for a strike to be legal. That would mean, for example, that if 50% of members participate in a ballot, at least 80% of those who vote would have to vote in favour for a strike to go ahead.
The government argues that these measures are designed to improve workplace democracy, yet despite introducing stringent requirements on strike ballots, nothing is done to make the casting of a vote easier. There will be no online voting - a measure which could bring ballots into the 21st century and genuinely facilitate wider workforce involvement - but rather, with Section 4 of the Bill the Tories make the requirements for paper voting even more onerous, including a need to have a "reasonably detailed indication of the matter or matters in issue".
The Bill also requires two weeks' notice of an industrial action be given to employers and combines this with restricting the mandate of any ballot to a four-month period. Worse still, employers will be allowed to use this two-week period to arrange for temporary workers to carry out work during any strike. The Tories propose to repeal Regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 that prevents employers using agency workers to carry out "the duties normally performed by a worker who is taking part in a strike or other industrial action".
Pickets will also be more tightly regulated. Section 9 of the Bill requires that a "picket supervisor" has a letter of authorization and they must even wear "a badge, armband or other item that readily identifies the picket supervisor as such". So ridiculous is the government's position that it even seeks to introduce a requirement for a trade union to publish plans in advance of industrial action which will need to state: "Whether it will be using social media, specifically Facebook, Twitter, blogs, setting up websites and what those blogs and websites will set out." The idea that the position would not change during the notice period itself is absurd, yet on this logic any trade union would be restricted to saying what it had notified the employer beforehand: thus, the Tories are even trying to restrict what trade unions can say on social media, and are shamelessly cloaking this proposal in a document entitled "Consultation on tackling intimidation of non-striking workers."
No wonder the independent Regulatory Policy Committee has declared the Tory proposals "not fit for purpose". They have no objective or reasonable basis. Let us not forget that the Tories also propose to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 - and Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights includes the right to form and join trade unions to protect a worker's interests.
The right to withdraw labour is a basic one, but its existence depends upon workers actually being able to exercise it. No government that claimed the mantle of "One Nation" could introduce such a divisive piece of legislation that is no more than a naked political attack on working people across the UK.