The media treatment of RMT and Bob Crow over the last 48 hours over the Network Rail strike ballot has been the worst example of a concerted campaign of media bias against a trade union that we have seen since the 1980s miners’ strike. John Humphrys’s interview of Bob Crow, with his references to ballot-rigging, and the BBC’s subsequent headline of “RMT’s Bob Crow denies ballot rigging”, was that disgusting classic of the old hack lawyer’s tactic of asking the defendant: “When did you stop beating your wife?”
Even the Guardian’s editorial (2 March) ignorantly weighed in with “No union that conducts its ballots properly according to the reasonable requirements of the law … would be in danger of being injuncted.” This reference to “reasonable requirements of the law” is patent rubbish. To hold a ballot the union must construct and supply the employer with a detailed and complex matrix of information setting out which members it is balloting, their job titles, grades, departments and work locations. The employer is under no obligation to co-operate with the union to ensure this is accurate. If there is the slightest inaccuracy, even where it did not affect the result, the ballot is open to being challenged by the employer and quashed by the courts.
There can be no question of the union ballot-rigging or interfering in the balloting process because it is undertaken by an independent scrutineer, usually the Electoral Reform Society, and all ballot papers are sent by post to the homes of the members being balloted, and returned to the ERS for counting. The union at no time handles the ballot papers.
On at least four occasions in the last three years I have tried in parliament on behalf of RMT and other TUC-affiliated unions to amend employment law to require employers to co-operate with unions in the balloting process so these problems can be overcome. Employers’ organisations, the Conservatives and the government have all opposed this reform.
The result is not fewer strikes but a deteriorating industrial relations climate as people become increasingly angry that their democratic wishes are frustrated by one-sided anti-trade-union laws.
John McDonnell MP
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