Today we received the disappointing news that the ballot for action to win reinstatement for Lee Cornell, and justice for Dave Sharp and Saeed Sioussi (the "London Bridge 3"), had failed to meet the 50% turnout threshold required by the Tories' Trade Union Act.
Despite returning a majority of 80% in favour of action, the 35% turnout is not enough for the union to call a legal strike, meaning cross-combine action in this dispute is impossible without a re-ballot that does hit the thresholds.
This is the Tories' anti-union laws - not just the 2017 Act but previous legislation - doing their job. They are not designed to promote democracy, but to shackle unions and prevent workers from fighting back. The thresholds demanded of unions (50% turnouts, and 40% of all those balloted voting yes in certain "essential services", including transport) are not applied to any other area of democratic life: many MPs and councillors have mandates far lower than 80% on a 35% turnout! The 2015-2017 Tory government was elected with the support of just 24% of the electorate. Previous legislation, which forces unions to conduct ballots postally, also has an effect. Voting on your own, at home, away from the discussion and solidarity of the workplace, is an atomising experience, and indeed is profoundly anti-democratic. Real democracy requires collective discussion, meetings, deliberation, debate, all conducted in person.
The fight to get Lee back to work must go on. His Employment Tribunal will go ahead, and should be supported by solidarity demonstrations. RMT still has a mandate for local action at London Bridge, and further strikes there should be called. The union can also picket in support of the ongoing action-short-of-strikes, which will maintain the profile of the dispute and be a thorn in the company's side.
This outcome is undoubtedly disheartening, most of all for Lee, Dave, and Saeed, and for the reps and activists who have worked so hard to try and leap the Tories' arbitrary hurdles. While we should learn from this disappointment and redouble our efforts in future to make sure we do hit the thresholds, we should not sink into recriminations and bitterness at colleagues who didn't return their ballots. The "blame" for this setback lies with the Tories who imposed the laws, and the employers who lobbied for them. The whole trade union movement, which met the imposition of the laws with only the most token levels of opposition, must start fighting back, calling demonstrations and rallies against the laws, and looking for ways to subvert and defy them.
Politically, getting involved in the Labour Party and campaigning for a Labour government - now a real possibility for when the Tory/DUP lash-up inevitably collapses - is a key priority. A Labour government will repeal the Trade Union Act, and should be pushed to go beyond that and legislate for genuine trade union freedom: restoring the right to workplace meetings, workplace ballots, and to take solidarity action.