Now Jack Straw has rushed through rules making strike action
by the Prison Officers illegal. Straw is reintroducing rules brought in by
Michael Howard, the despised former Tory Home Secretary, in 1994. Once again
New Labour are aping the Tories. 35 rebels voted against the ban. The Tories
voted for it. After all, it was their ban. Their spokesperson in Parliament
jeered that he was glad Labour had been converted to ‘Thatcherite legislation.’
The regulations could also be used against other actions by
those whom the government designates ‘emergency’ workers.
Last summer the government got an injunction against
proposed industrial action by the Prison Officers’ Association. It was totally
ignored. The strike went ahead in any case. Straw says a repeat performance
doesn’t bear thinking about. He wants a strike ban.
The Executive of the POA was full of Labour supporters, who
hoped the government would be different from the high-handed Tories. They have
been sadly disillusioned. Colin Moses says, “For 10 years we have promoted the Labour
party. We will now actively tell people to vote against the Labour party. We
feel betrayed by this New Labour government.”
Prison officers are traditionally regarded as a conservative
section of the working class. They are close to the Police Federation, an
organisation that is now demanding the right to strike. Both are, of course, a
part of the state machine. The government is not just showing its political
insensitivity. The threat to the POA is really an insult to every trade
unionist in the land. New Labour is also being very short-sighted. They have
already infuriated the police when Jacqui Smith, in order to save peanuts,
scrapped an arbitration award for their pay that had already been budgeted for
by the police authorities.
Disaffection within the functionaries of the state is
dangerous for any ruling party. Disaffecting your own supporters is not
sensible politics. Euripides had a saying that those whom the gods destroy they
first make mad. That seems to be true of New Labour. We need to defend the
rights of the POA and the principles of free trade unionism from them.