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Why public sector unions do have a mandate for strikes

by Sadie Robinson

The Tories and the right wing press are bleating on about the turnouts in recent ballots for strikes among public sector workers. They claim the turnouts mean there’s no democratic mandate for strikes—and that they show most workers don’t want to fight their cuts.

Tory cabinet secretary Francis Maude, whose personal wealth is estimated to be around £3 million, harangued PCS union general secretary Mark Serwotka on Channel 4 news on Wednesday evening.

Maude told Serwotka that strikes would be undemocratic because “you don’t even have the support of your own members”.

It’s true that a majority of workers did not vote. In the PCS, the turnout was just over 32 percent and in the ATL it was 35 percent. It was 40 percent in the NUT.

But the Tories assume that everyone who didn’t vote doesn’t back strikes. There’s no evidence for this. Those voting against strikes were in the minority in all unions—in the NUT only 8 percent actively opposed striking.

And all evidence shows that when workers strike, even those who didn’t vote for strikes respect the action. That’s because trade union members tend to abide by democratic decisions—something the Tories have trouble understanding.

As turnouts in trade union ballots go, they aren’t low. The NUT turnout is relatively high—just under 30 percent of members voted in the union’s last national ballot in 2008.

Tory politicians want to focus on turnout to distract from the fact that clear majorities in every union have backed strikes.

The votes for strikes in the NUT, ATL and PCS unions were high—despite the anti-union laws and the constraints of the balloting process. In the NUT, a massive 92 percent of those voting backed strikes. More than 60 percent backed strikes in the PCS and 83 percent in the ATL.

And we should take no lectures from the likes of David Cameron on “democracy” or “democratic mandates”. On his definition of democracy, he wouldn’t be prime minister today.

Cameron got just 25 percent of the available vote in last year’s election. A full three quarters of those eligible to vote didn’t vote for him. And he certainly wasn’t voted for on the policies he’s ramming through now, since the Tories kept quiet about them during the election campaign.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems, who promised to oppose student fee rises, happily voted them through last year. Our rulers’ version of democracy is a sham and we should have no truck with it. And they lie when they say that there’s no public support for strikes.

Workers, students and others are already organising to support the strikes. More than 60 trade union branches and campaigning organisations are backing a meeting in London on 22 June to organise support for strikers.

The Unite the Resistance meeting takes place in London on Wednesday of next week, at Friends Meeting House, Euston Road, from 6.30pm.

It will discuss how to make the 30 June strikes as effective as possible and how everyone can be involved in action on the day. Speakers include Tony Benn, Mark Serwotka and deputy general secretary of the NUT Kevin Courtney.

Everyone who wants to make 30 June a day of rage against the Tories should be there. Together, we can beat them.


Full list of sponsors of Unite the Resistance meeting

  • Action for ESOL
  • Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (Barac)
  • Brent Fightback
  • Camden Keep Our NHS Public
  • Camden United Against the Cuts
  • Central London Right to Work
  • Coalition of Resistance (CoR)
  • CWU London Region
  • CWU North/North West London
  • Day-mer (Turkish and Kurdish Community Centre)
  • Defend the Right to Protest
  • Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC)
  • Ealing Alliance for Public Services
  • Education Activist Network
  • Hackney Pensioners Group
  • Hands Off Our NHS
  • Islington Disabled People Against the Cuts
  • Islington Hands Off Our Public Services (IHOOPS)
  • Keep Our NHS Public
  • National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN)
  • NUJ London Magazine
  • NUT Camden
  • NUT Croydon
  • NUT Ealing
  • NUT East London Teachers Association
  • NUT Hackney
  • NUT Islington
  • NUT Islington 6th Form College
  • NUT Newham
  • NUT Southwark
  • NUT Wellington Park Primary School
  • PCS Central London Valuation
  • PCS DWP North London
  • PCS Euston Towers
  • PCS LPS London & South branch
  • PCS Office of the Public Guardian
  • Queer Resistance
  • Right to Work (RtW)
  • RMT Eurostar
  • RMT Fleet branch
  • Southwark Save Our Services
  • TUC Barnet
  • TUC Greenwich 
& Bexley
  • TUC Haringey
  • TUC Slough
  • TUC Waltham Forest
  • UCU City & Islington College
  • UCU City of Westminster
  • UCU Conel
  • UCU Greenwich Community College
  • UCU Hackney
  • UCU Kings College
  • UCU Lambeth College
  • UCU Left
  • UCU Lewisham
  • UCU London Metropolitan
  • UCU London Region
  • UCU Richmond College
  • UCU Tower Hamlets
  • UCU Westminster Kingsway
  • UK Uncut
  • Unison Camden
  • Unison Haringey
  • Unison LFEPA
  • Unison Tower Hamlets
  • Unison United Left


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Thu 16 Jun 2011, 11:01 BST
Issue No. 2256
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