In 1972 a Conservative government was involved in a power struggle with the trade unions. It resorted to legal means to try and curb the workers power. It introduced an Industrial Relations Court (IRC) which would decide if legal limits on striking and picketing would be decided nice and calmly.
What happened? Well the court decided to send five pickets to jail for refusing to stop their activities. The country came close to a General Strike until somebody nobody had heard of called the Official Solicitor went to the Court of Appeal to end the stand-off. A General Strike was averted when the Appeal Court ruled that the IRC had insufficient grounds to imprison them. The feeling was widespread that this was a political not a judicial decision to get the Heath government off the hook.
I regale you with this piece of industrial history because of the current government’s plan to force minimum service agreements on striking unions. I fear a situation similar to that in 1972 could arise. A union might instruct some of its members to provide a service, but what if they refused? At the moment an unofficial minimum service agreement is operating in that ambulance staff have agreed to cover serious emergencies. However in the poisoned atmosphere that could be created by this bill, the possibility of intransigence can’t be ruled out.
Some Labour MPs are talking about nurses being sent to jail. This seems impossible as it is the unions that will be fined for not providing a minimum service. However, the government should be wary of tightening the judicial screw on the unions. Two years after the IRC’s jailing of the pickets, the Conservative government was out.
Small businesses are dismayed by the withdrawal of energy subsidies this spring. The government could not sustain support at current levels but firms using less than £107 per megawatt hour for gas and £302 for electricity will get nothing. The Federation of Small Businesses is “massively disappointed”. Larger firms subsidy will now get discounts based on the wholesale price of energy not the government fixed price and there will be extra help for many businesses in the North West that are high energy users like glass and board.
World energy prices are dropping, so let’s hope the pressure will ease.
WEST LANCASHIRE BY ELECTION
The hattrick of recent North West by elections is to be completed next month when voters go to the polls in West Lancashire.
The seat has become vacant by the resignation of Labour MP Rosie Cooper to take a senior health job. There is no doubt however that the likeable MP has been worn down by the death threat she faced in 2017.
Once a leading light in the Lib Dem group of councillors on Liverpool Council, she defected to Labour in 1999. She has worked hard for the communities of Burscough and Ormskirk and Skelmersdale. In the latter case campaigning to get a rail connection. The by election has been delayed amid reports that Cooper wanted a peerage and enhanced security following her recent experience.