Poll: Should there be any changes to the legality of strike action in the UK?
All unionisation of labour should be banned outright. (4)
12.5%
Strike action should be banned outright, but unions should continue to represent labour in collective wage and working conditions negotiation. (2)
6.25%
There need to be stronger or more rigorously enforced restrictions to strike action than exist at present. (6)
18.75%
Current legislation regarding industrial action is sufficient and is adequately enforced. (7)
21.88%
There needs to be a relaxation in the restrictions placed on trade unions’ negotiating power with business and government. (5)
15.63%
There should be no legal restrictions to industrial action. (8)
25%
Shaun39
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Strike action harms both producers and consumers, in a manner which clearly detracts from the Pareto efficiency of the economy. By increasing uncertainty and discouraging investment, the possibility of strike action necessarily has the effect of lowering the economy's long term growth rate.

Nevertheless, is it necessary for strike action to remain legal in order to preserve labour's share of GDP? Are restrictions on picketing, the requirement of ballets, the requirement of giving notice, etc, adequate in limiting the economic impact of industrial action?

Would many TSR members consider banning strike action outright? And given strong traditions of militancy among many of the UK's unions, how would illegality be enforced?
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Oswy
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From a Marxist perspective unions are a tricky concept. On the one hand they represent a means by which workers can collectively limit the exploitative tendencies of owners, on the other hand there is also a tendency for unions, through their negotiation (and even 'partnership'), to inadvertently legitimate capital's process of exploitation.
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Shaun39
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(Original post by Oswy)
From a Marxist perspective unions are a tricky concept. On the one hand they represent a means by which workers can collectively limit the exploitative tendencies of owners, on the other hand there is also a tendency for unions, through their negotiation (and even 'partnership'), to inadvertently legitimate capital's process of exploitation.
And they legitimate capital's exploitation in a manner that an individual worker enthusiastically agreeing to the terms and conditions of his contract with a new employer doesn't? Or the worker's carefully selecting the nicest looking bunch of bananas for his money and therefore committing the heinous sin of willingly bolstering capitalism?
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DrunkHamster
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As a libertarian, I am fully in favour of the right to unionise - it's nothing more than an extension of self-ownership and, correspondingly, freedom of association. On the other hand, I think that there is no right to employment; unless it is explicit in the contract, I think employers should be able to fire at will. So yeah, employees have the right to unionise and aim for better conditions via collective bargaining, and employers have the right to fire the workers for doing so if they wish.

Striking on the other hand is more complicated - if employees have agreed to an employment contract and decide to strike despite it, they are certainly in breach of contract. But I, along with most libertarians, don't think that self-ownership (and hence the ownership of my future labour) can be transferred. So while companies should certainly be allowed to pursue damages from illegitimately striking employees, they cannot force them to work.
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DrunkHamster
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(Original post by Oswy)
From a Marxist perspective unions are a tricky concept. On the one hand they represent a means by which workers can collectively limit the exploitative tendencies of owners, on the other hand there is also a tendency for unions, through their negotiation (and even 'partnership'), to inadvertently legitimate capital's process of exploitation.
As opposed to trade unions in Marxist states, who have historically had a tendency to legitimise the exploitation (and I use this in a sense which I can clearly define and defend) of the workers by the government?
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*The One
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(Original post by Shaun39)
Strike action harms both producers and consumers, in a manner which clearly detracts from the Pareto efficiency of the economy. By increasing uncertainty and discouraging investment, the possibility of strike action necessarily has the effect of lowering the economy's long term growth rate.
Equity can also be considered to be a microeconomic objective, therefore perhaps industrial action may lead to an improvement in equity. I'd say nowadays as as opposed to let's say the 70s, there is relative stability in industrial relations. I don't think there is evidence to suggest investment is being harmed, on the contray things look healthy. So I think the laws as they stand are adequate for the current climate, how long that may last who knows.

Perhaps consumers, being workers themselves in a different economic activity, are in sympathy with fair wages. Perhaps more seriosuly punitive laws would create an inhospitable working culture that could reduce labour productivity and reduce long-term economic growth? You see my point.
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Agent Smith
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Strikes are occasionally necessary. However, employees (encouraged and bullied into doing so by their unions, more often than not) seem strike over every little thing these days. In a way, it's the commercial counterpart of the compensation culture, with its obsession with suing people.
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Shaun39
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(Original post by *The One)
Equity can also be considered to be a microeconomic objective, therefore perhaps industrial action may lead to an improvement in equity. I'd say nowadays as as opposed to let's say the 70s, there is relative stability in industrial relations. I don't think there is evidence to suggest investment is being harmed, on the contray things look healthy. So I think the laws as they stand are adequate for the current climate, how long that may last who knows.
Absolutely - whilst an economy is maintaining solid growth, all is rosy. It's on the downside of the economic cycle that unions really lay wreck to an economy. Where they are passive they merely slow down any realignment and economic recovery; where militant, they deepen depressions, worsen living standards, and scare off private investment until well into the next recovery.

Fortunately, union membership has declined massively in the UK's private sector. This has arisen mostly because of the decline of manufacturing employment and the rise of temporary employment in manufacturing, but also because of a long period of stable economic and real wage growth that has made workers content and unions irrelevant.

That does not change the high likelihood under current industrial action legislation, that when the next substantial recession comes along, we can say goodbye to dependable public services. That really won't benefit anyone (except the lucky and most militant few).

(Original post by *The One)
Perhaps consumers, being workers themselves in a different economic activity, are in sympathy with fair wages.
Rarely, if my experience is anything to go by. The majority of workers are emplyed in the private sector; most unionised and striking workers are in the public sector (or highly regulated "privatised" industries).

The perceptions of public sector workers as overpaid and enjoying chushy working conditions are deeply ingrained in the British public, and probably well justified. Certainly, i heard plenty of grumbles in the canteen at work about the laziness and selfishness of the prison officers on strike today. And i wasn't too chuffed when Royal Mail strikes delayed the handing out of pay checks (as the local branch have the pay slips and checks posted to them by the central branch).

(Original post by *The One)
Perhaps more seriosuly punitive laws would create an inhospitable working culture that could reduce labour productivity and reduce long-term economic growth? You see my point.
In the private sector, firms pursue maximum factor productivity (which is close proxy of worker productivity) in order to maximise profits. Productivity is indeed seriously undermined when a workforce is discontent (particularly where the output of individual workers cannot easily be monitored), but most firms will therefore try every means to foster a happy workforce.

So i don't really see any threat to productivity posed by the weakening of unions.

Indeed, union officials have a vested interest in poor industrial relations (up until the point where this leads to danger of corporate bankruptcy, or to no end in the public sector). They can therefore expect to be putting about as much material as they can to convince workers that they're getting an unfair deal. That will lower general levels of worker contentment and productivity regardless of whether things are bad enough to trigger strike action.

And then there's the danger that unionisation of unproductive parts of the public sector will preserve wages higher than levels of output, recruitment needs, or skill requirements justify. The result is to draw skilled workers from more productive areas of the economy, suppressing overall productivity.
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Greyhound02
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(Original post by Oswy)
From a Marxist perspective unions are a tricky concept. On the one hand they represent a means by which workers can collectively limit the exploitative tendencies of owners, on the other hand there is also a tendency for unions, through their negotiation (and even 'partnership'), to inadvertently legitimate capital's process of exploitation.
Also, I would have thought, from a Marxist perspective, that unions could be opposed because they encourage division between the working classes: between those out of work and those in work, who, through union efforts, get more money than they would otherwise get. Because unions increase wages, do unions not help create a middle class that is less likey to support revolution because, given that they have more money than most of the working class, there is less solidarity between them and unionised workers have more (money) to risk from revolution?

I'm not a Marxist, I just wanted to get your thoughts on this.
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Shaun39
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(Original post by Agent Smith)
Strikes are occasionally necessary.
When?

I can accept that the extra clout they give to unions allows for labour to enjoy a higher proportion of GDP.

Nevertheless, this income redistribution is far more distorting than progressive taxation would be, for earnings are more inflated in effectively unionised employment sectors (and suppressed in others).

So, aside from achieving income redistributions that could be more efficiently and equitably achieved by other means, what is gained from the legality of strike action?

And under what (plausible, modern day) conditions might it be necessary?
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UniOfLife
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Am I missing something but wouldn't banning strikes be the same as telling people they must work? How can you stop people from not working one day?
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Shaun39
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(Original post by UniOfLife)
Am I missing something but wouldn't banning strikes be the same as telling people they must work? How can you stop people from not working one day?
There's the thing. Of course any individual worker has the right to shirk off work if they want to; the consequences could well be deductions from the number of days leave available, or even the sack. And of course, the worker can say goodbye to a good reference or promotion prospects.

Mass action (or inaction) though - that's a different kettle of fish. It is the active collusion of workers in order to force the temporary shut down of a business - harming both consumers and owners - until their demands are met. I don't see any reason for this te be legal. I would envisage that all workers participating in such action could be fined in order to compensate both the business and consumers. Where that could be implemented, it would be an absolute deterrent from industrial militancy. If we're decided that's what we want of course...

Edit: and of course from the poll, there is clearly a lack of consensus for any change from the present set up. Although, i've not heard any convincing arguments here in favour of being lax with strike action.
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Oswy
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(Original post by Greyhound02)
Also, I would have thought, from a Marxist perspective, that unions could be opposed because they encourage division between the working classes: between those out of work and those in work, who, through union efforts, get more money than they would otherwise get. Because unions increase wages, do unions not help create a middle class that is less likey to support revolution because, given that they have more money than most of the working class, there is less solidarity between them and unionised workers have more (money) to risk from revolution?

I'm not a Marxist, I just wanted to get your thoughts on this.
Yes, good points. The story of early trade unions in the industrial revolution is very much one of atomised trade interests (as opposed to class solidarity), a pattern which, although much altered and diminished over time, never really went away completely. There's something ironic in the fact that the successively enlarged middle classes have grown out of a process which includes generations of trade unionists fighting for better pay and conditions. Yet, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of self-consciously working class trade-unionists, once they've absorbed the economic, social and cultural values of their new class status, easily become diametrically opposed to collectivism in favour of individualism, opposed to socialism and in favour of capitalism. History is full of irony.

As I say, I think unions are, at the fundamental level, problematic for Marxists. From a more pragmatic position, however, Marxist tend to support unions and union activity as an immediate representation of class struggle.
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UniOfLife
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(Original post by Shaun39)
There's the thing. Of course any individual worker has the right to shirk off work if they want to; the consequences could well be deductions from the number of days leave available, or even the sack. And of course, the worker can say goodbye to a good reference or promotion prospects.

Mass action (or inaction) though - that's a different kettle of fish. It is the active collusion of workers in order to force the temporary shut down of a business - harming both consumers and owners - until their demands are met. I don't see any reason for this te be legal. I would envisage that all workers participating in such action could be fined in order to compensate both the business and consumers. Where that could be implemented, it would be an absolute deterrent from industrial militancy. If we're decided that's what we want of course...

Edit: and of course from the poll, there is clearly a lack of consensus for any change from the present set up. Although, i've not heard any convincing arguments here in favour of being lax with strike action.
I see nothing illegal with workers colluding to not work for a day. The company will dock their wages to recoup losses. And the company can take measures to counter strike action - either by agreeing to demands or by sacking their staff or by including relevant clasuses in contracts. Besides, our Trade Unions are less militant and more political these days.
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decola
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(Original post by DrunkHamster)
am fully in favour of the right to unionise - it's nothing more than an extension of self-ownership and, correspondingly, freedom of association. On the other hand, I think that there is no right to employment; unless it is explicit in the contract, I think employers should be able to fire at will. So yeah, employees have the right to unionise and aim for better conditions via collective bargaining, and employers have the right to fire the workers for doing so if they wish.
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Captain Crash
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(Original post by Shaun39)
The perceptions of public sector workers as overpaid and enjoying chushy working conditions are deeply ingrained in the British public, and probably well justified. Certainly, i heard plenty of grumbles in the canteen at work about the laziness and selfishness of the prison officers on strike today. And i wasn't too chuffed when Royal Mail strikes delayed the handing out of pay checks (as the local branch have the pay slips and checks posted to them by the central branch).
Do you even know what the Prison officers were striking about? It was to stop forced overtime. Whilst they're not alone in that situation (health staff comes to mind....) it not an unreasonable demand and certainly not lazy and selfish.

Where I work (ironically a coop) staff refused to help and serve scab postal officers during the strike - there is support among the public for union action, it just tends be limited to the lower classes (funny that....)

Anyway, relevent to this discussion?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5pyhqDo1Us
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Shaun39
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(Original post by Captain Crash)
Do you even know what the Prison officers were striking about? It was to stop forced overtime. Whilst they're not alone in that situation (health staff comes to mind....) it not an unreasonable demand and certainly not lazy and selfish.
Whilst the union has made noises about understaffing, the stated objective of strike action has been an improved pay settlement. If there really are recruitment or retention problems, then the lack of justification for the strike becomes more pronounced - the government would have to see about delivering better pay and conditions regardless of union militancy.

There is no such thing as forced overtime. Either it is built into the contract - in which case it is not really overtime (the case of many health workers for instance) - or it is voluntary. Clearly the incentives offered to prison officers are high enough that a significant amount of overtime gets done voluntarily. How is that a bad thing? Of course, statistics related to this are easily manipulated and used as propaganda by unions, but many workers actively seek out overtime (me for one - £5 an hour beats £3.30).

(Original post by Captain Crash)
Where I work (ironically a coop) staff refused to help and serve scab postal officers during the strike - there is support among the public for union action, it just tends be limited to the lower classes (funny that....)
Well, i work in a potato packaging place (most workers on minimum wage) where the opposite sentiment seems to prevail. There is real resentment for those who not only are far more affluent, but who will deprive society of basic services in order to force even better pay and conditions.
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Shaun39
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(Original post by UniOfLife)
I see nothing illegal with workers colluding to not work for a day. The company will dock their wages to recoup losses. And the company can take measures to counter strike action - either by agreeing to demands or by sacking their staff or by including relevant clasuses in contracts.
Obviously not. If employers were able to recoup all their losses from strike action, then there would be no such thing as strike action. It is by damaging the property of others, and threatening further damage, that unions obtain privileged and preferential treatment for their workers. If you believe that employers, and perhaps even consumers, should be able to recoup the losses imposed on them by trade union militancy, then perhaps you are in favour of a ban backed up by fines on participating workers?

(Original post by UniOfLife)
Besides, our Trade Unions are less militant and more political these days.
And as stated above, trade union militancy corresponds to our stage in the business cycle. It is in the next substantial recession that we will see strike action across the unionised parts of the workforce. The trough will be deepened, and the recovery delayed, by the resulting lost output and deterrent to investment. Why allow this?
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UniOfLife
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(Original post by Shaun39)
Obviously not. If employers were able to recoup all their losses from strike action, then there would be no such thing as strike action. It is by damaging the property of others, and threatening further damage, that unions obtain privileged and preferential treatment for their workers. If you believe that employers, and perhaps even consumers, should be able to recoup the losses imposed on them by trade union militancy, then perhaps you are in favour of a ban backed up by fines on participating workers?



And as stated above, trade union militancy corresponds to our stage in the business cycle. It is in the next substantial recession that we will see strike action across the unionised parts of the workforce. The trough will be deepened, and the recovery delayed, by the resulting lost output and deterrent to investment. Why allow this?
Companies could, if they wanted, take measures to curb strike action. I'm not in favour of unnecessary government intervention into the market and this seems completely unnecessary for the simple reason that companies can deal with it themselves.

I'm not sure that it's fair to say that trade unions will become militant the next time we have a recession. The last time they acted in this way was about 20 years ago, so the tradition is lost and broken. Public support would be against them as well. I think the days of TU militancy in Britain are over.
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L i b
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(Original post by decola)
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