Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has offered the government a deal on the Trade Union Bill which amounts to accepting the bill in return for the introduction of electronic ballots.
The call for electronic ballots is not new. The TUC has, since the announcement of the bill, been making noise about the government allowing electronic ballots as a means of trade unions achieving higher turn outs in strike ballots. However many seem surprised by McCluskey′s ″olive branch″ letter to the prime minister.
It is not wrong to demand the restriction to postal balloting imposed on unions, which means members vote in isolation in their home, and is plagued with problems as members move house or just forget to post their ballot paper. However electronic ballots, though they would be better, do not necessarily mean workplace ballots, and may still mean ballots are conducted with members voting in isolation away from discussion with workmates.
Certainly the demand for electronic and/or workplace ballots should not be made as a trade for accepting government meddling in our unions′ democratic processes. Unions should be more democratic, more controlled from the workplace, but thats our job, not the state′s. Our demand should be that unions decide our democratic processes, that there should be not restrictions or rules about our ballots.
What about the other, crippling, elements of the bill — restrictions on picketing, lifting the ban on the use of agency workers to cover striking workers, and the attack on unions′ political funds. Would McCluskey accept all of these in return for electronic ballots? We hope not!
McCluskey′s letter follows the mode of the trade union leaders who talk of ″boxing clever″ and working with ″friendly amendments″ to the bill. Thinking we can beat the Tories′ class war by negotiations on small amendments between union leaders and the government is a fatal trap. The opposite is needed — building a mass movement to oppose the bill, persuade and educate the public, reenergise trade unions in the workplace to against cuts and for better pay and conditions, and prepare trade union members for the necessity of breaking the laws if they pass.