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(en) Britain, Solidarity Federation Catalyst* #23 Spring 2010 - p6-7 - Know your rights + Government moves against file-sharing + Your rights at work + Post deal fails workers and public

Date Sun, 19 Sep 2010 15:48:09 +0200

Know your rights The right to strike ---- In the UK you have the right to strike, but only if certain legal conditions have been met. One of those is that the action has been approved by a certified trades union and is “official”, so you are at the mercy of the union bureaucracy. ---- If you don’t work for a period you don’t expect to be paid. If you quit a job you would at least get paid for the work you had done; and you wouldn’t expect fines, claims for damages from your boss for lost profits or the threat of imprisonment. If you strike illegally you can face all of those as well as losing your job. ---- So what do you have to do for a strike to be lawful? ---- There has to be a trade dispute involving the members of a certified union working in a specific industry, for a specific employer or in a specific bargaining unit. The dispute has to
involve their employer, so an industry-wide
strike can only be decided upon and supported
by workers employed by companies involved in
the dispute. If your company settles the dispute
you can neither go on strike nor vote to do
so even if the dispute continues everywhere
else and you would benefit from a successful
outcome or suffer from a defeat. For example,
Third Sector workers cannot strike in support
of, or vote on, any Local Government claims
even where these determine their own pay and
Secondly, the decision to take industrial action
has to be made by a ballot or secret vote. The
decision to have a ballot would be made by the
relevant delegate body for national disputes. For
a local dispute a meeting would have to be held
which is open to all the members affected. The
motion proposing a ballot on industrial action
must be circulated to all those eligible to vote so
that they know that a vote is to be held and what
that vote is about; and so that they can attend the
meeting and vote. The meeting must be open
only to those eligible to vote. An attendance
record must be kept and identification may be
For the motion to be carried and the ballot to
go ahead the union’s rules must be followed and
usually a simple majority is all that is needed.
However, factors such as turnout, numbers
voting and the size of the majority might also
come into play. Aside from the threat of a
legal challenge, the union’s bureaucracy has
to approve the vote and to organise the ballot.
They will be influenced by the likelihood of a
legal challenge and of the success of both the
ballot and the proposed industrial action, their
relationship with the employer and their political
stance. The best protection against interference
is to ensure the best possible attendance at the
meeting and to win the argument for industrial
action before the meeting so that people will
turn up and vote for the motion.

The ballot

The ballot itself is the key. Membership records
must be accurate and up to date. Everyone who
is eligible to vote must receive a ballot paper, and
no one who is ineligible can receive one. If this
doesn’t happen, the ballot will be overturned in
court if challenged. The recent British Airways
strike ballot was overturned because union
members deemed unaffected because they had
already accepted redundancy packages received
ballot papers.
There will usually only be one question on the
ballot paper, which will be vague and will simply
ask if the member is in favour of “industrial
action, including strike action” or “industrial
action short of strike action” (such as a work-
to-rule, overtime ban or boycott). No period or
extent of industrial action will be specified, that
is for the relevant union committee to decide
and explained to the members before the
The state deliberately tries to create
confusion and apathy among the membership.
Low turnouts in ballots mean employers can
question their legitimacy and possibly challenge
them in the courts.

Issues in dispute

The industrial action has to be around a clear
issue – a pay claim, of the reinstatement of a
victimised union member, of the withdrawal
of redundancy threats – over which the union
is in dispute with the employer. Things can get
tricky if negotiations progress or if the employer
changes its stance. So, a significantly improved
pay offer may make the result of the ballot
no longer relevant or mean that industrial
action is suspended while agreement is sought.
Employers can also get an injunction against
the continuation of industrial action or even
against the validity of the ballot in the changed
circumstances. In such cases, either the dispute
has to be called off or the action suspended
while another ballot has to be held.


The last condition is notice of the industrial
action, which must be at least seven days’
for the action to be lawful. Dodgy union
officials have been known to call off strikes
when employers have said that they have not
received notice, such as during the London
Metropolitan University strikes last year
when UNISON officials called off one strike
at the last minute because the employer said
that notice had not been received. That might
protect the union’s corporate interests, and
its officials, but if workers strike regardless
or unaware that it has been called off they
lose legal protection.

So, what can happen if the strike is
not lawful?

Workers lose the legal protection against
victimisation for trades union activities. You can
be sacked for breach of contract. Even if the strike
is lawful you will lose pay; if boycotting an activity
which constitutes a significant part of your job,
you may also have a proportion of your pay
The basic legal protection unions and their
members enjoy is immunity from torts – legal
damages. Basically, your boss can sue you and
your union, if they have backed unlawful action,
for damages for loss of profits, loss of business,
damage to reputation, etc. caused by the action.
This is why unions and their officials will
oppose unofficial action and formally repudiate
it – to avoid legal responsibility and damages –
regardless of their real attitude towards it. If the
action is unofficial action, those deemed legally
responsible will be sued rather than the union
and its officials.
Worse may follow defying a court injunction.
Striking in defiance of one constitutes contempt
of court and you can be fined or jailed indefinitely
until the contempt is purged. However, the
employer will usually have to go back to court
to demonstrate that you are breaching the
injunction and factors like bad publicity, the
dispute spreading, etc. may dissuade them from
this. In the ‘80s four building workers successfully
defied an injunction against them taken out
by John Laing for picketing its building sites in
protest at blacklisting.

If that’s legal protection,why bother?
Not everyone is ready for a full-scale confrontation
with the law. Real protection comes through
strength of organisation and economic clout,
and you need the former to get over the hurdles
to hold a lawful strike anyway. Once you’ve got
that far, the widest possible participation by
members through picketing and other activities
will keep momentum going. Winning over non-
union members and others continuing to work
is crucial and should be based on argument and
moral pressure, not abuse or intimidation which
will only alienate them. An active strike will
give people confidence in themselves and their
organisation and empower them in the struggles
which will come after the strike. It will also throw
up new leaders who renew the organisation and
replace those exhausted in the struggle.


Government moves against file-sharing

Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, has
warned internet users that the days of free
filesharing are numbered as he unveiled
the government’s plan for cracking down
on online piracy by mid-2011. However,
leading internet service providers
(ISPs) responded by labelling the plans
‘unworkable’. Under the proposed Digital
Economy Bill, the government would adopt
a ‘3 strikes’ policy for people who download
films or music without paying, with warning
letters escalating to disconnection from the
internet. ISP TalkTalk said the plans were
“ill-conceived” and said it was prepared to
challenge measures “in the courts”.
British Telecom and Carphone
Warehouse estimate that running the
enforcement system would cost about £2
per broadband line per month - a total
of £24 per broadband line per year. With
17.6m broadband connections in the UK as
of September 2009, that means it would cost
£420m annually to run a system to defeat
a problem the music industry complains
costs it £200m in potential profits per year.
So-called ‘illegal downloading’ – which is
not actually a crime – happens when people
use free software to share music or video
files on their computers with others around
the world free of charge. Web experts
estimate that between a quarter and a half
of all internet traffic is attributable to such
activity. Copyright-holders groups are keen
to paint such non-commerical sharing as
“stealing”, and have led several high-profile
campaigns including the infamous DVD
trailer that compares sharing music with
stealing somebody’s car.
A similar industry campaign was run in
the 1980s with the advent of blank cassette
tapes under the slogan ‘home taping is
killing music’. Two decades on and music
is alive and well, while the cassette tape has
been replaced by digital mp3 technology.
Free sharing does not meet the legal
definition of theft and the police only
become involved with large commercial
piracy operations. The recent collapse of
criminal proceedings against the founder of
the Oink.me filesharing site has reaffirmed
this legal status.
Filesharers have responded to the bill
with bemusement, pointing out that it is
virtually impossible to tell whether files
being shared are copyrighted or not, or
even if internet activity is file sharing or
not. Next-generation file sharing software
is already incorporating security features
such as encryption, and free tools such as
PeerGuardian allow filesharers to prevent
known anti-filesharing agencies from
connecting to their computers to gather
information on them.
These were among the reasons the
government’s own ‘Digital Britain’ report
rejected threatening to disconnect
filesharers from the internet. However,
keen to appease copyright-holders’ groups
the business secretary has pushed ahead
with the proposals in spite of such advice,
and despite research that suggests music
fans who download for free also spend on
average 75% more per year on music than
those who only use commercial download
services like Apple’s iTunes store.
In spite of the proposals, it looks as though
free filesharing is here to stay. Recently,
high profile artists such as Radiohead have
given away their albums for a voluntary
donation, while popular bands such as the
Arctic Monkeys made their name by making
their songs freely available on the internet,
creating a loyal following at their gigs long
before receiving heavy radio airplay.

1. User installs a free software ‘client’
such as µTorrent or BitComet.

2. User visits a ‘tracker’ website such as
The Pirate Bay and downloads a ‘.torrent’
file which points their software client at
other users who are sharing the music
or film file they want to download.

3. The software connects to other users
sharing the file and downloads it, whilst
simultaneously sharing the downloaded
file with others. The more people
sharing, the faster this works. Whole
albums can be downloaded in a matter
of minutes.

4. For extra security many filesharers
use free software such as PeerGuardian
or PeerBlock to prevent computers
known to be linked to anti-filesharing
organisations from connecting to their
software client, making it harder to
gather information on or identify them.


Your rights at work

Your righRegardless of work status (temporary or
permanent, agency, full or part-time) or our
contracts of employment, most of us have
certain basic rights. These include:

1. The right to be told in writing how
much and whenwe are to be paid.

The Minimum Wage for those over 22 years
of age is set at £5.80,. For 18-21 year olds it is
£4.83 and for 16-17 year olds it is £3.57. For
agency workers, wages must be paid on the
agreed day, even if the hiring company has
not paid the agency.

2. The right to at least 28 days paid
leave per year.

Any employment contract should set out
leave entitlements. If it doesn’t, then 28 days
must be given (which can include public
holidays). All workers, agency workers,
homeworkers, trainees, so-called casuals
and most freelancers are included in this.
Holiday entitlement starts immediately,
e.g. on day 1, we get 2 days leave, and, after
6 months, we get 14 days (for part time
workers it is less, and it applies to jobs
started since October 2001).

3. The right to breaks of at least 20
minutes after each 6 hours of work.

We are entitled to at least 11 hours’ rest in each
24 hours and a minimum of a day a week off.
Rest breaks for under 18s are minimum 30
minutes every 4 1/2 hours.

4. The right to refuse to work any more
than 48 hours each week.

We cannot be forced to work over 48 hours
per week unless we have agreed to it in
writing (note that this is averaged over any 17
week period, so we can be forced to do more
in any one week).

5. The right to sick pay when we are ill.

We are entitled to statutory sick pay if we
normally earn over £77 per week and we
have been working for over 3 months (or
are deemed to have been in continuous
employment for 13 weeks).

6. The right to maternity/paternity
leave whenwe have children.

From April 2003, most mothers are entitled
to 26 weeks’ paid maternity leave and an
additional 26 weeks’ unpaid leave. To get
maternity pay, we must earn over £77 per
week and have been working for over 6
months by the time the baby is 15 weeks
from being due. For the first 6 weeks, this
should be 90% of average earnings, then a
flat rate of £100 for 20 weeks. If pay can’t
be claimed, Maternity Allowance may
be claimed from the DSS. Fathers/male
partners get 2 weeks’ paid paternity leave
(subject to the same qualifying conditions
as for maternity).

7. The right to be free from harassment.

We are all entitled to a workplace where
there is no racial or sexual harassment
bullying, prejudice or discrimination
Agency and part-time workers have the
same rights as full-time workers.

8. The right to defend ourselves.

We all have the right to protection from
dismissal for asserting our statutory
employment rights. We also have the
right to join with our fellow workers and
organise ourselves collectively, and to join
a trade union.

9. The right to refuse work that is unsafe
or where training is not provided.

We all have the right to refuse to work if we
find ourselves in imminent danger. Alsolaws governing agencies mean they should
not send us to jobs for which we are not
qualified, and they must ensure that proper
training is provided.


Post deal fails workers and public

After an enthusiastic start at the end of 2009,
quickly followed by a union retreat, CWU
and Royal Mail negotiators have finally
hammered out a deal that both sides are
happy with. Unfortunately in this instance,
‘both sides’ does not include the workers
involved – the offer on the table is far from
ripe. Despite being presented in the media as
a hugely generous 6.9% pay rise, the reality is
far from this. The 6.9% is over 3 years – likely
to below inflation, or in real terms pay cut.
Worse still, the union have agreed to almost
the entirety of Royal Mail’s ‘modernisation’
agenda – massive redundancies, increased
loads and radically reduced payments for
the delivery of door to door (or as everyone
usually calls it, ‘junk) mail – alongside the
removal of the cap on how much junk can
be delivered. However, what the union has
secured for itself, is further guarantees of
their consultation in terms of the changes.
What is important is apparently not that these
huge damaging reforms are stopped, but that
the union is asked first.
Indications of where the union was likely
to stand have been showing for a long while
– after all, the CWU itself had accepted the
‘modernisation’ in 2007, calling off the widely
supported action which was being fought
against it. Further signs were to be found
after the strike days last year, when the union
called off planned strike dates on the vague
promise of ‘meaningful negotiations’ from
Royal Mail managers.
Despite an angry and supportive workforce,
a management immersed in a culture of
bullying and the trump card of the busy
Christmas season, the CWU seemed content
to throw away all of the cards it was holding,
seemingly on little more than the promise
that management would take them seriously.
In the time since then, while small figures
may have been adjusted up and down and
cosmetic changes made to the deal, the bulk
is still the same – less staff, doing more work,
for less money, with less job security.
The fact that even a supposedly ‘left-
leaning’ union behaves this way underlines
why it essential for workers to control their
own struggles and fight on their own ground.
When there is no one to represent and mediate
your battles, it is a lot harder to be sold out.

* Newspaper of the Solidarity Federation UK Section of the Anarcho-Syndicalist International Workers’ Association
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