Nearly 150 people crammed into a committee room at the Houses of Parliament, in London, to express their support for a private members bill to stop employers using trivial legal loopholes to prevent industrial action.
Two hours and 15 speakers later the numbers had dwindled considerably.
Those who stayed heard union leaders describe how - despite massive votes in favour of strikes – they had lost legal cases because the wording of a ballot notice had been slightly wrong, or there had been a short delay in telling bosses the result.
John Hendy QC, a top employment lawyer, said: “These irregularities do not harm the employer or cause them a damage or detriment.
“And the legislation has no concern for the democratic vote of members. The court takes no regard of whether the vote for action was 91 percent or 51 percent.”
Labour MP John McDonnell has tabled the Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill to protect union members’ right to strike.
The meeting heard that where union members are strong and determined they can defy the law.
Maria Eagle, from the Communication Workers Union (CWU), said of postal workers: “When the law doesn’t fit our members walk out anyway – and the employer doesn’t take action.”
In 1994 it was made unlawful to induce prison officers to take industrial action – but there have been unofficial strikes since.
Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association (POA), said: “If any public sector prison is privatised, we have already decided, we will have a workplace ballot and strike.”
Other union speakers were from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), National Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT), Trades Union Congress (TUC), Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), Unite, and the United Road Transport Union (URTU).
The bill is before parliament on Friday October 22. Rules say 100 MPs must attend for the legislation to go any further.
Trades unionists can lobby their MPs and urge them to turn up and support the bill by using www.writetothem.com.
UK union laws are draconian and should be scrapped so union members can decide their own rules democratically.
John McDonnell’s bill is a small step in that direction.
But highly paid union officers shouldn’t be allowed to use the complications in the law as an excuse for making mistakes or frustrating workers who want to take action.
And expecting people to sit through 15 speakers is an affront to their solidarity.