Tuesday, 19 October 2010


GREEDY LAWYERS and bolshy bosses are ganging up with exotic politicians like the bleach blond Boris Johnson, to call for what the Financial Times (FT) today describes as 'tougher anti-strike laws'. A survey carried out by the Law Firm DLA Piper found that three-quarters of employers polled backed stronger anti-strike legislation. It also found that 90% of executives in both the public and private sector anticipate 'a lot more industrial action in the months ahead'.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) – the bosses' union – is calling for a change in the law to only let strikes go ahead if 40% of balloted members support them, as well as a majority of those voting. David Bradley, DLA's Piper's Head of Employment Law, said: 'the study's findings provide strong encouragement for the government from business leaders to tighten the laws around strike action.'

If this happens it will bring legal challenges from trade unions under the European Convention of Human Rights, as David Bradley notes. Brian Groom, Business & Employment Editor of the FT writes: 'the coalition government has no plans to change the laws on industrial action ballots', despite incitement from colourful conservatives like Boris Johnson. Mr Johnson very likely finds RMT strikes by Bob Crow's underground workers boring, with the dreary Londoners forming queues along the Thames for launches to take them up and down the river hoping to reach their places of work and business. Far better, from Boris's point of view, to close off this orderly form of protest – the strike and the peaceful picket – that forms a social safety valve for disgruntled workers, and to open the door to the more dramatic alternative of the street riot. The street riot, in the form of the Poll Tax Riot - was the unintended consequence and ultimate culmination of the original anti-trade union laws enacted by the Thatcher administration. Besides the riot, which Thatcher brought back to our English streets perhaps for the first time since the 19th Century, another unintended consequence of the Thatcher laws and of the shift to the streets from the workplace of social conflict was the increasing adjournment of militant shop stewards and the union representatives to the Courtroom and the Tribunal to seek legal redress instead of negotiated settlements. Thus the bosses, by getting rid of the workplace strike and factory occupation, has given us something more bloody and socially disruptive on the one hand in the street riot, and on the other a peaceful utopia for the legal profession to exploit in the Courts and Tribunals.

DLA Piper lawyer, Mr Bradley, claimed: '... private sector employers feared they could suffer “contagion” from strikes in the public sector'; if they supply the public sector they might be hit as a knock-on effect or if militant public sector workers transfer to the private sector they might bring their militant behaviour with them. He told the FT: 'employers would not necessarily find it easy to challenge co-ordinated strikes on the grounds that they were political.' Mr Bradley argued: 'As long as there was a legitimate trade dispute over terms and conditions, unions had considerable discretion about the timing of strikes.'

No wonder Mr Bradley's law firm has gone from strength to strength in recent decades since Mrs Thatcher's anti-trade union laws: a random perusal by Northern Voices shows it to be one of the largest law firms in the world with over 3,500 lawyers and revenues of $2.25 billion in 2008/09 and 69 offices across 30 countries. One of their members, Paul Burnley, head of the Corporate Defence group in Leeds, defends companies and their boards of directors in 'high-profile health and safety investigations: he is an expert in crisis management and acted for companies like Hickson & Welch in the Castleford Disaster; Associated Octel in the gas explosion at Ellesmere Port; the Leeds/Bradford air disaster at Dunkeswick and more recently for Jarvis in the Potters Bar disaster.' Sir Nigel Knowles from Sheffield is chief executive officer (CEO) of DLA Piper and he says that he will 'Face up to the people lobbing grenades into the arena — and remove them'. Saying 'Stay true to your roots', he told an interviewer in 2008: 'Among all the international expansion, I’ve made sure that our relationship with those Yorkshire clients that have been loyal to our Leeds office has stayed strong. Bradford & Bingley were an early client of ours, who have gone on to become a FTSE 100 company. We’ve grown together.' Bradford & Bingley, let's recall, was nationalised later in 2008, a victim of the credit crunch and has now been taken over by Banco Santander. Another DLA Piper partner, Michael McKee, was asked in an interview on Sky TV on July this year about criminal behaviour connected with the collapse of the banks and interviewer, Jeff Randall, asked: 'Just because the CEO gets a big bonus when a bank goes down, that doesn't mean he was a bank robber, not literally?' To which McKee replied: 'Absolutely'.

It's not bad for some!

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