The courts are at war with democracy… again

A single judge has overruled a strike voted for by 97 per cent of union members.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Staff writer

Topics Brexit Politics UK

Postal workers at the Royal Mail took part in one of the largest votes for industrial action in history last month. Over 111,000 members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) were balloted. A whopping 97 per cent voted in favour of strike action on a turnout of almost 76 per cent.

But that overwhelming endorsement now counts for nought. After a two-day hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice, a single judge granted an injunction to prevent the strike from going ahead. Royal Mail’s lawyers claimed there were ‘irregularities’ in the vote and that members were ‘unlawfully coerced’, which sounds a lot like saying ‘they didn’t know what they were voting for’. CWU general secretary Dave Ward says Royal Mail’s case relied on the witness statement of a single manager. No balloted members had complained about ‘interference’ or irregularities of any kind.

Current laws are already stacked against trade unions. Especially since the Trade Union Act 2016, which stipulates minimum levels of turnout and workforce support for strike action. Simple majorities – the normal way of doing democracy – are not enough. Few of the politicians who passed the law would be elected under these conditions. That the Royal Mail ballot was only the third to meet the threshold since the 2016 act gives an indication of the hurdles now faced by striking workers.

When a vote goes the ‘wrong’ way, the establishment’s last line of defence is the courts. Whether it’s Royal Mail against the posties or Gina Miller and friends against Brexit, the courts are more than willing to provide a platform for the rich and powerful to air their grievances against democracy – and will almost always rule in their favour.

The court decision against Royal Mail workers puts many on the left in an awkward position. Only two months ago, many were cheering the bewigged toffs of the Supreme Court for its decision to overturn Boris Johnson’s prorogation of parliament. They cheered as the judges gave Remain MPs another opportunity to overturn the largest democratic vote in British history. Supreme Court president Lady Hale and anti-Brexit litigant Gina Miller were lionised as cult figures.

The judgement of the Supreme Court was widely said to be beyond question. Labour MP David Lammy hysterically claimed that seeing people ‘attack the courts and question the independence of judges’ meant that the ‘far right are up to the same old tricks’.

The fact that Jeremy Corbyn’s team tweeted excitedly about the result of the CWU ballot but is yet to comment on the judge’s injunction might suggest that the left plans to continue siding with the judiciary over the people.

At some point, the left will have to wake up to the fact that judicial power is rarely exercised in the interests of ordinary people. It is part of the system of so-called ‘check and balances’ – a check on democracy, which rebalances power away from the people and in favour of the political establishment and the wealthy. Judges are no friends to the people.

Fraser Myers is a staff writer at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

Picture by: Getty

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Phil Wolstenholme

18th November 2019 at 1:20 am

If only there was some kind of European court to protect workers rights!

Steve Roberts

15th November 2019 at 8:01 am

Jim Lawrie, you obviously haven’t read much at all , trying to appear objective when all you do is repeat all the anti worker prejudices we have had since way before the seventies. You could have thrown in the “winter of discontent” I suppose. Oh dear, anyway the judge made it clear all electoral requirements were fully met !! As the grovelling Ward pointed out too, but he ruled over any of that saying that in his opinion a strike would have adverse effects effectively, yes thats right he made a political judgement , all goal posts of legality or otherwise are dismissed when political justification is needed. Just stand up for the side you are on, that’s not from the seventies but from hundreds of years of struggle.

Jim Lawrie

15th November 2019 at 9:26 am

The interim injunction was granted on the basis that the CWU ballot was unlawful. Another ballot must now be held. If the delivery and return is controlled by The CWU, the same will ensue.

Do you really believe 97% of returned ballots were in favour?
Do you agree with The CWU having so much control?
Do you agree with in camera, private evidence to combat intimidation?

Again you impute to me a position that creates a platform for you to deflect from your inability to deal with what I say. Straw man.
BTW I am not a CWU member. I did refuse to cross the picket lines in the last strike. To my cost.

Steve Roberts

15th November 2019 at 6:01 pm

I’ll try once more. if you take the time to read my initial post it makes clear that for me how members and their union decide to organise their ballots is their business not the laws, that should clear up your questions, though i doubt it , you will have another path to go down .
Of course the ruling was that it was unlawful, he is the “law” the point is a judgement for injunction was based beyond the scope of the union breaking any electoral law, that was admitted in the judgement, the ruling was made beyond all that, it was a political decision to grant an injunction in the judges “opinion” not related to any law been broken,Oh just say you will oppose the members come what may.

Jim Lawrie

17th November 2019 at 11:27 am

Steve Roberts you declare ” how members and their union decide to organise their ballots is their business not the laws,”. Then you accuse me of partiality.
I am opposed to intimidation in any election or workplace from whomsoever it originates.

Trade Unions and their members are not beyond, below or above the law, no matter how much you will it so. That the law was hijacked by The Supreme Court does not, no matter your whataboutery logic, make it okay for The CWU to follow suit, sneaking it under while everyone was distracted by said court cases and rulings.

Jim Lawrie

15th November 2019 at 10:02 am

Dave Ward wails a litany of what has not happened. He then draws an inference form these non facts. That is the thinking of the barrack room lawyer.

Imagine you are a post man sorting the mail for your walk an d soemone reoves that mai and trouser it.

1.) You take it up with the Union rep who tells you to mind your own effin business.
2.) You take it up with management in which case you are a grass, will be assaulted and your car vandalised.
3.) You do nothing and say nothing.

You come into work next day and the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all workers in your sorting office have been pinned to the notice board next to where you sign in. The manager has put that there. Intimidated.

Jim Lawrie

15th November 2019 at 2:34 pm

Other than attention seeking and your attempts at denunciation, there was no need to take this spat to the top of the page.

Paul Carlin

14th November 2019 at 10:41 pm

A bit over the top in that piece; I very much doubt that the senior judges involved would lay themselves open to credible claims of bias in the sort of way claimed. It would be instructive to learn exactly what the ‘irregularities’ and ‘coercion’ claimed by the Royal Mail lawyers was on which the final decision was made.

Jim Lawrie

14th November 2019 at 11:48 pm

The 97% of returned ballots in favour of a strike raises the suspicion that papers were intercepted and filled in by other than the addressee. Easily done in the intimidatory atmosphere of a sorting office. The ballot papers next time should be delivered by an independent party, and at least 35,000 randomly numbered test return papers put in the post boxes to see how far they get.

The Royal Mail post their distinctive pay slips through their own system, to be delivered by postmen. So every postman in The UK knows if he is delivering to another postal worker. Union reps and their henchmen know the address of every postal worker in their area.
Postmen who live and work in the same postcode can and do intercept the mail of their wives, sons, daughters etc …. Not all of them, I hasten to add.

Linda Payne

14th November 2019 at 7:29 pm

This could be a great opportunity for the postal workers to organise and strike anyway; they can’t sack them all and if they try then an all out strike should be called. People have more power than they think they just need the confidence and organisation

Dominic Straiton

14th November 2019 at 7:02 pm

The Uk has far better workers rights than the eu.It also has trial by jury and a presumption of innocence completely lacking any where else except Ireland(your welcome) If you want more, leave, and then convince everyone of the validity of your argument. Its really easy. Might not get the answer you want.

Jerry Owen

14th November 2019 at 5:13 pm

This doesn’t put the left in an awkward position.
The left for a decade or more have had double standards, indeed I would argue treble standards when it comes to the victim status of women v Islamists v homsexuals. The left jump on any passing old boat to further their cause and if needs be ditch the boat they have just jumped off, white working class men a perfect example. This is why they are so easy to ridicule, and why they don’t debate anymore.
The left have lost the ideological battle, they are a laughing stock albeit a dangerous one.

Steve James

14th November 2019 at 4:17 pm

So the only time you are allowed to strike, or vote for that matter, is when it has no effect?

Jim Lawrie

14th November 2019 at 4:09 pm

“Dave Ward says Royal Mail’s case relied on the witness statement of a single manager. No balloted members had complained about ‘interference’ or irregularities of any kind.” That is how intimidation works. No-one will speak out. It is rife in Royal Mail sorting offices. It is necessary to intimidate just one person as a warning to the others. That is how thugs work.

The 110,000 balloted constitute about 73% of the operational workforce. So if the 97% in favour figure is accepted, then 54% of the workforce supported strike action. Those figures exclude tens of thousands of temps.

Trade Unions hate the secret ballot.

Ven Oods

19th November 2019 at 1:17 pm

I take your point about intimidation, but, isn’t 97% of 73% just a decimal fraction below 71%?

Steve Roberts

14th November 2019 at 3:59 pm

Myers is right to highlight the situation, its yet another example of people versus the establishment whether at the level of an industrial dispute or the slightly more political one of who rules in the nation, that pesky matter of democracy, deja vu hardly covers it, 100 years of the history of the labour movement gets closer.
So once again the people have voted, the employers/establishment have made it clear they will stop at nothing to defeat them, the question remains then of what is to be done.
Myers writes “The court decision against Royal Mail workers puts many on the left in an awkward position” well they have had no problem defying the will of the people by supporting the labour party in its efforts to deny our democratic instruction, the days of exposing the “left” now seem so yesterdays news,but necessary, what is more worrying is those that still pander to the “left” and see potential in them for the future.
And clearly there is a major problem for the CWU ,its appealing to the TUC for help, yes you get it, the organisation of the Trades Unions that campaigned for remain and supports the Labour Party and its defiance of the referendum result, the party against the people, the CWU is a supporter and affiliate of the LP, does anyone believe these union bureaucrats are going to lead a fight ?
Despite this Ward does the grandstanding of “we will not be moved…” what does that mean in light of this huge mandate from the members, it includes and not much else
” ..appealing against the judgement once we have taken guidance from our lawyers, re-balloting and launching a huge leverage campaign with major shareholders against the company’s actions”
I doubt the employers are shaking in their boots Mr Ward. They have at this early stage shown that everything will be used against the workers, the response should immediately have been something more like
…. ok then if its war you want you can have it , all the members are united, we decide how we determine our democratic decisions, we don’t accept your ruling and if necessary will break that ruling by whatever means necessary, we will now go to try and build a movement of fellow workers , even if it means going over the heads of the leaders of those unions, we need to fight this fire with fire, we will not stop, over to you.
Fighting talk, yes, what other way is there against such a determined opponent, play by the rules they set and then change and set up new ones as they will. That wins nothing. We all need something new, free from the shackles of the past, the shackles of our side too, not just the other side.

Jim Lawrie

14th November 2019 at 5:11 pm

Like Mr Myers you are taking at face value Union press releases and PR without checking.
The “only one manager” claim is not what was presented in court.

Pressuring people in the workplace to fill in a ballot paper under your gaze is not democracy.
It is also illegal to interfere with The Post. The obligation on the Royal Mail is to deliver to an address, not a person.

Steve Roberts

14th November 2019 at 6:01 pm

You clearly haven’t read my post, but it is clear which side you are on ,i’ve heard all this nonsense from the likes of you for decades. Not interested in how or why the court reached its ruling, it should be ignored if necessary, the people, in this case the members decide, before you ask ,so I advocate defying the court ?in this situation absolutely, it’s how rights are always defended and won, breaking the status quo, the establishment understand this, time we did too. This is not about the rule of law per se, don’t try that old trick, this about the law interfering politically again, we can’t accept that.

Jim Lawrie

14th November 2019 at 11:06 pm

I did read your post. And, as indicated, I have read more than you have in this matter.

I don’t have a dog in this fight, but no mention from you or any other armchair revolutionaries of the other 46% of the operational workforce (50% of the total workforce).

The last strike, a series of one day affairs with plenty of notice given to management, achieved nothing and the workers drifted back, with many Union members cancelling their subscriptions and crossing the picket lines. Since then Union membership has fallen dramatically.

Your insinuation and accusation against me show you cannot deal with my points. Instead, you just ramble like a 70’s throwback, taking the politically pure position of not being interested in anything that does not meet your leftier than thou stand, and thinking we cannot see through that deflection. But in the real world fraud and intimidation are crimes.

antoni orgill

14th November 2019 at 3:37 pm

Who knew that Royal Mail workers had vote for strike action? Not the Daily Mirror, it seems … it’s yet another historical opportunity for Labour to wet its collective pants when the going gets tough. Labourists have been doing this for decades. It’s second nature to ‘get around the table’ and stitch up your dependable support … If Corbyn wants the mantle of Tony Benn he’d better man up and give unconditional support to striking workers … from the Royal Mail to the threatened McStrike in Sheffield and elsewhere … if strike action goes against the grain of his and McDonald’s ‘Green Revolution’ then … they know where the black hole for class traitors is … right behind them …

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