Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has offered the government a deal on the Trade Union Bill.
On 1 October he sent David Cameron a letter offering to accept the 40% and 50% ballot thresholds in return for the introduction of electronic ballots.
It is not wrong to seek an alternative to postal balloting, which has been imposed on unions. Postal ballots ensure members vote in isolation in their home; they are plagued with problems such as members moving house or just forgetting to post their ballot paper.
Electronic ballots, though they would be better, do not necessarily mean workplace ballots. They may still mean members voting in isolation without any discussion with workmates.
Further, the demand for electronic or workplace ballots should not be made as a trade-off for accepting government meddling in our unions′ democratic processes.
Unions should be more democratic, more controlled from the workplace, but achieving that is our job, not the state′s.
Our demand should be that unions decide on democratic processes and that there should be no restrictions or rules about our ballots.
What about the other, crippling, elements of the bill — restrictions on picketing, lifting the ban on the use of agency workers to cover striking workers, and the attack on unions′ political funds?
McCluskey has said in speeches that he still opposes these, but his letter to Cameron doesn’t mention them, and his move can only weaken the campaign against them.
McCluskey′s letter is typical trade union leader behaviour: the talk of ″boxing clever″ and working with ″friendly amendments″ to the bill. Thinking we can beat the Tories′ class war by negotiations on small amendments with the government is a fatal trap.
The opposite is needed — building a mass movement to oppose the bill, persuade and educate the public, and prepare trade union members for the necessity of breaking the laws if they pass.