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The PCS union may have given the government the excuse it needs to reform strike laws

By Peter Hoskin
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Much ado, this morning, about the prospect of industrial action during the Olympics — and particularly about the strike, choreographed by Mark Serwotka’s Public and Commercial Services Union, that is due to take Heathrow’s immigration and customs officials away from their desks tomorrow. There is even talk that that the Home Office will go to court in order to stop it.

The government would be right to take a tight and unforgiving grip on the PCS here — and I say that even though I wrote a column last week urging a kinder attitude towards the unions. My point then was that the Conservatives shouldn’t be so quick to generalise about the trade unions and their members, as there is much in the union movement that’s worth supporting. But this, today, isn’t a generality: it’s a specific example of one union going out of its way to cause trouble, and during a national event years — and many millions of pounds — in the making. As Francis Maude is apparently telling his colleagues, there are plenty of union people who are dismayed at what the PCS is up to.

One thing to look out for now is whether this steels the government to reform the laws surrounding industrial action. Only 20 per cent of PCS members took part in the strike ballot, and only 57 per cent of them voted in favour; which is an unpersuasive way to decide on something quite so contentious and disruptive. Ministers have been certainly been toying with increasing the threshold required for strike ballots to become legal — along the lines suggested by Dominic Raab — for some time, although they have been reluctant to proceed lest they seem like the aggressors. The PCS’s Olympic-time militancy may have just taken that problem away for them.

11.20 update: The strike has now been cancelled, with Mark Serwotka claiming that "significant progress" has been made in talks. Perhaps he also realised what a public relations mess this might have been for the PCS.


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