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Unofficial Strikes

Volume 169: debated on Tuesday 13 March 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what proportion of industrial action taken in Britain is unofficial action.

A recent special exercise showed that in 1988 approximately one half of all stoppages and one third of all working days lost resulted from unofficial disputes.

Does not the common sense vote by the ambulance workers to return to work illustrate how awful it would be if there were an unofficial strike by pockets of ambulance workers? Does my hon. Friend agree that it says much for the Employment Bill which is going through the House of Commons that it would make such wildcat strikes illegal?

My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw the House's attention to the provisions in the Employment Bill which will require trade unions to say whether they support industrial action in particular cases. It is interesting that in Committee Opposition Members did everything that they could to defend the rights of unofficial strikers.

In view of the ambulance workers' decision, why could not the Government have settled the dispute much earlier without the problems that have been caused? In relation to unofficial strikes, does the hon. Gentleman want workers to become wage slaves who must accept work whether they like it or not? The last right that ordinary working people have is the right to say no if they do not want to work for a particular employer in certain circumstances. By denying that, the Government are taking away a basic human right.

That really is the voice of the day before yesterday. It is remarkable that at a time when the citadels of state Socialism are crumbling all over Europe, the hon. Gentleman can get up and make a remark like that in favour of unofficial action. I should have thought that people who claim even a passing acquaintance with the trade union movement would be prepared to say that unofficial action should not be supported, but, to be frank, I never thought that the hon. Gentleman would take that view.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the vast majority of the British people are sick and tired of having to suffer at the hands of those who choose unofficial action, particularly in the public sector, and that the vast majority of the British people are thankful that at long last the Government have decided to do something about the problem? Does he agree that the attitude of Opposition Members in Committee, who continually opposed the progress towards this change in the law, is to be condemned and means that they are totally unfit to form a Government?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. If anyone wants evidence of the fact that Labour is the striker's friend, as it always has been—[HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful!"]—he could do much worse than read the reports of what was said in Committee. As hon. Gentlemen have just admitted, it is quite disgraceful.

The Minister referred to the crumbling citadels of Socialism in eastern Europe. Does he accept that some of those citadels crumbled because of the type of unofficial action that the Government are making unlawful?

That was a question of remarkable puerility, even for the hon. Gentleman. It would be interesting for anyone who thinks that the alliance might live again to examine the hon. Gentleman's voting records and see how many times he had to side with the Opposition in Committee.