Kettling the Unions?

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Kettling the Unions?
A Guide to the 2016 Trade Union Act

‘This very welcome book is intended to provide an analysis of the roots of the Trade Union Act 2016. Those roots lie in Thatcher’s legislation of the 1980s and further back to the undermining of collective bargaining in UK industrial relations that developed in the 1970s, in the context of neoliberalism’s rise to dominance. 

The Trade Union Act was a transparent attempt to contain trade unions in the position they held before the turn of the 20th century. It has introduced draconian restrictions on the right to strike, and new restrictions covering balloting and picketing. It has also changed the rules on union political funds from the current ‘opt-out’ system to an ‘opt-in’ system, an anti-democratic attempt to reduce the ability of trade unions to fund not only political parties, but also a wide range of other non-party political activities. 

As well as aiming to be a guide to the 2016 Trade Union Act and its effect on the trade union movement, this book sets it in the context of decades of attacks on the rights of workers to organise by Conservative governments.’

Mark Serwotka
PCS General Secretary


Foreword by Mark Serwotka 7

Preface Oil on the Fire? Brexit and Workers’ Rights 9

Introduction 16


Chapter 1 - The Trade Union Problem 28

The Emerging Problem 28 | The Rise of Trade Unionism 31 | Regularising Trade Unions? 36 | Taff Vale and the Trade Disputes Act 1906 39 | Voluntarism 44 | The Enemy Within: the challenge to consensus 47 | The Establishment of Trade Unionism and its Growing Challenge 53


Chapter 2 - Containing the Unions 58

The Attack on Voluntarism 58 | Heath, the ‘Quiet Revolution’ and the Industrial Relations Act 60 | Labour and the Social Contract 64 | Trade Unions Under Thatcher and Major 71 | Fairness at Work? The Labour Government 1997-2010 78 | The Coalition, the State of the Unions, and the Carr Review 83


Chapter 3 - The Trade Union Act 2016: A Guide 102

1. Introduction 102

2. Industrial Action Ballots 107

Ballot Thresholds 107 | Electronic Balloting 113 | Information Requirements associated with industrial action ballots 117 | Timing of and Duration of industrial ballots 119 | Expiry of industrial action mandate 121 | Picketing 122 | Use of agency workers during strikes 127

3. Political Funds 129

The Nature of Trade Union Political Funds 129 | Reform of Political Funds 131

4. Facilities Time and Check-Off 134

Facilities Time 134 | Check-Off 138 5. The Role of the Certification Officer 141


Chapter 4 - Flexing the Kettle? 153

A ‘Winter of Discontent’? 153 | Implementing the Act 155 | Testing the Trade Union Act 158 | Immediate Impact of the Act 161 | Pension Disputes in the Universities and Royal Mail 164 | Pensions and the Pay Cap 173 | Conflict in the ‘new economy’?: Organising the unorganised 175 | Recognition in the global economy 179 | A revival of trade unionism? 181 | Repealing the Trade Union Act 187


Appendices 196

Appendix 1 - Examples of workers who deliver ‘important public services’ under the 40% threshold 196 Appendix 2 - Facilities Time 198 Appendix 3 - Role of Certification Officer 200 Appendix 4 - Institute of Employment Rights, Manifesto for Labour Law 201


Acknowledgements 204

About the Author 204

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