Friday 21 December 2007

The right to strike under threat

The coverage of the recent European Court of Justice rulings on the right to strike is, to say the least, confusing. Presumably the consequences, which I am sure will be far reaching, will become clearer.

To get a flavour, here are reports from the Financial Times, Socialist Worker and the International Transport Workers' Federation.

The case related to an attempt to re-flag a ship to another country and employ a new crew on lower wages.

My initial reading of this is that the ECJ recognised both the "fundamental right" to strike and companies "freedom of establishment" to set up and operate wherever they wanted.

Predictably, the UK government took the side of the employer, alongside some of the governments of low-wage countries, while most other EU countries took the side of the union.

Some commentators are calling this a "balanced" decision, others a fudge. Whatever you call it, the ruling says that union action to defend jobs and conditions by opposing the reflagging is an infringement of the employer's rights, but that this might be justified in some circumstances.

What I think this means is that the fundamental human right of all working people (who aren't slaves) - to refuse to work - is being "balanced" against the free market principles of the EU. Let this be a warning to all trade unionists who think "free trade" treaties that have legal weight are something we can welcome or ignore.

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