Jeremy Dear, the general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, was understandably upset this week when a court blocked a group-wide strike at Johnston Press.
The court ruled in favour of JP, which argued it didn’t actually employ any journalists. Those journalists are employed by subsiduary companies and it is those companies the NUJ should have informed about the action, not JP itself.
The decision prompted Dear to write to the Guardian and argue that it was time for union to just ignore the law and strike anyway:
It is a disgrace that strike action at Johnston Press had to be called off after the company was able to get a court injunction claiming that none of the 560-plus journalists work for it, but for its subsidiaries…
When employers shut a factory or newspaper or sack hundreds of workers, they don’t consult anyone, let alone hold a vote – but when workers want to strike, they face a wall of legislation.
The law allows employers to overturn the democratic decisions of thousands of workers. This assault on workers’ fundamental rights to withdraw their labour is an issue for the entire union movement.
One way to beat the law is for a union to strike in defiance of any judgment… Sooner or later a union somewhere will take a stand and say stuff the law.
He doesn’t actually suggest that the NUJ be the first union to do that, but to me his statement is a good way at deflecting the real issue: That the NUJ should have seen this one coming.
It’s quite unprecedented for the union to push for group-wide action in one go, so you’d like to think they’d have sat down and thought of all the things the company would do to stop the action. To me, this seems an obvious way the company would try and stop the strike.
To that end, whether the law is anti-union or not, the union should have worked to see this coming.
Roy Greenslade argues that all JP issues a company-wide handbook and that all pay slips come marked with the JP logo. Again, to me, that’s not cast iron proof that someone actually works for JP, it’s just proof that some admin work is done centrally on behalf of the whole company.
Ignoring the law and striking anyway won’t get the law changed, it’ll just leave workers even more exposed. The trade unions have had their party of choice in power for 13 years – ample time, you would have thought, to sort out laws they feel are anti-union.