Brainfood: Workplace Rights - Striking Back

Industrial action was the hottest employment issue of the 1970s.

Workplace strife was rampant and the nuances of the law on trade union immunities, picketing and sympathy action were endlessly debated. Margaret Thatcher put paid to that scene, and a cautious New Labour Government retained the Tories' tight legal trammels on organising strikes. But what goes around comes around, and there are inklings of a resurgent labour movement looking to flex its muscles and roll back some of the anti-union laws of the 1980s. This will doubtless gather momentum if plans to merge the Transport and General Workers' Union, Amicus and the GMB into a powerful new 'super union' come to fruition. The summer's incendiary dispute at airline catering business Gate Gourmet could also mark a watershed. The company sacked 670 striking workers, sparking a two-day walkout in solidarity by British Airways ground staff at Heathrow. At a stroke, the issue of whether secondary industrial action should be made legal once more was back on the political radar. Although Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were swift to dispel any such notion, union barons will be hopeful of a more 'sympathetic' ear from the Chancellor as his star continues to rise.

Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin solicitors, e-mail:

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