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08 February 2002

Combative employers wield strike-busting laws
Recent tough action by South West Trains against striking guards reflects a generally more combative approach by employers to industrial action, with a sharp increase in the numbers resorting to the law, according to Labour Research magazine.

Labour Research, which monitors legal actions against unions, reveals that the number employers using the courts to stop strikes rose from just one in the year 2000 to six in 2001. In another case a teachers' union was taken to court by an individual.

And last month Eurostar added its name to the list when it successfully argued that members of train drivers' union ASLEF were unlawfully refusing to cross picket lines.

Labour Research also found that such legal cases are being more bitterly contested, with four of the six last year going far as the Court of Appeal. However, the employers won only half of the cases.

The six suits reaching court in 2001 were overwhelmingly taken by public sector employers or those in privatised public services, indicating that they are more willing to embark on confrontational industrial relations. The employers concerned are Newcastle and Westminster City Councils, Merseyside Fire Authority, London Underground, Midland Mainline and Associated British Ports.

Labour Research also discovered a growth in the number of employer threats of legal action which don't reach court. This was confirmed by officials of a number of large unions, including the RMT rail union, the T&G general union and public services union UNISON.

The T&G, for example, said it was now facing two or three threats of injunctions a month, many of which would not stand up in court but are intended to put obstacles in the way of industrial action.

Many of the legal threats are around the balloting procedures, which are the subject of complex legislation. Most of them do not go very far as most unions have now developed the sophisticated balloting procedures required to comply with the law.

Notes to editors

1 Further details of the legal actions are published in the February 2002 issue of Labour Research, copy enclosed.

2 Labour Research is published by the Labour Research Department, an independent trade union and labour movement organisation founded 90 years ago. More than 1,800 trade union organisations, including 55 national unions representing 99% of total TUC membership, are affiliated.

3 For further information contact Sonia McKay on 0207 902 9827

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