By Jonathan Isaby
As previewed in The Times (£) this morning, Dominic Raab, the Conservative MP for Esher and Walton, has just tried to introduce a Ten Minute Rule Bill which would "prohibit strike action in the emergency and transport services sectors unless a majority of employees in the unionised workforce have voted in favour of such action".
Dominic Raab framed his proposal against the backdrop of sacrifices in the past made by made by the chartists, social reformers, the early union movement and campaigners against child labour in the poorhouse, against the virtual slave labour under the Poor Laws, and for greater democratic representation.
"I wonder what those heroic campaigners would have made of some recent strikes over travel perks, annual bonuses and the right to retire at 50. Despite a massive expansion of health and safety regulation and employment law, Britain is still episodically held hostage by a vocal minority led by militant union bosses."
He then went on to set out the immense damage done to the British economy and jobs over irresponsible or illegitimate strikes:
"In 2002 and 2007, we lost over 1 million working days because of strike action… In 2009, a comparatively quiet year, we lost almost half a million working days – way more than Germany, Italy, the US or Australia – whilst the last tube strike cost the capital £50million each day, disrupting over 1 million commuters.
"But what is worse still, is the way union bosses regularly manipulate a minority of members to coerce the majority into strike action. That is what this Bill will address."
He went on:
"The number of strike ballots carried on a minority of members is increasing at a rapid rate. The Rail, Maritime and Transport union led by Bob Crow is one of the worst offenders. A third of members supported his tube strikes in the autumn of 2010. The current ballot for which results are due tomorrow looks to escalate earlier strike action on the Bakerloo and Northern lines – strikes that carried just 35% and 20% of support from members.
"In 2010, the Public and Commercial Services Union claimed legitimacy for a strike ballot on redundancy pay that carried with just 20% of support from members. Unite and BECTU have also led recent strikes with minority support.
"My Bill will address this, by amending the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidated) Act 1992 to require the support of a majority of members – not simply a majority of those voting – in order for strike action to be lawful in the emergency services and in the transport sector."
"Union bosses on six figure salaries – some elected on a fraction of their membership – have grown out of touch with their members, out of touch with reality. The number of minority strikes shows they are often less interested in representing all their members and more interested in pursuing their own political agenda.
"Our law gives them too much power. They are abusing it, not just to blackmail government but also to coerce their own members and inflict maximum damage on the wider taxpaying public.
"So, the question for this House today is: who is prepared to stand up for the hard-working majority in this country – the silent majority – struggling and striving across both the public and the private sectors? That’s who these proposals will support."
Tony Lloyd, the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, rose to oppose the Bill and divided the House on the matter.
In the event, Dominic Raab was only able to command the support of 121 MPs, whereas Lloyd won the backing of 171 MPs in the lobbies, so the Bill is unable to proceed any further.
I'll try and provide a party breakdown of how MPs voted when the division list is published.
7pm update: I have just learned that Labour MPs were whipped to oppose the Bill, with many of their frontbench, including Shadow Cabinet members, walking through the lobby to oppose the measure. Meanwhile, since Government ministers and PPSs do not by convention take part in votes on Ten Minute Rule Bills, the number of Conservative MPs available to support the Bill was thereby limited.