UK Politics

Unite trade union calls for general strike

Unite members at a demonstration (file pic)
Image caption Unite represents workers in a wide range of fields, from nurses and teachers to bank staff and bus drivers

Britain's biggest trade union, Unite, is calling for a 24-hour general strike against austerity measures.

In a document submitted to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the union, which has 1.4 million members, says "such action is desirable".

The proposal will be discussed at a meeting of the TUC's general council on 24 April.

No strike date has yet been suggested, and Unite accepts that the move could be vulnerable to a legal challenge.

But Unite believes a general strike "would be a landmark in our movement's recovery of its morale, strength and capacity to play a leading part in a society crying out for credible and honourable leadership".

BBC political correspondent Tom Barton says that if a strike were called, the union would make it "explicitly political", targeting the coalition's austerity programme.

Opposition

Legal advice received by Unite suggests a general strike could be legal under human rights legislation if it were called as part of a political - rather than a trade - dispute.

But the union warns that "it would be rash to assume" that the British courts would take the same view.

Marc Meryon, a partner at law firm Eversheds, commented: "Unions can only organise strike action if certain conditions are satisfied. For example, there must be a live dispute between the striking workers and their employer over an issue such as terms and conditions of employment or working arrangements.

"As such, a general strike held to protest about government policy or a political matter, which is not directly related to the striking workers' employment, risks being unlawful and runs the risk of being challenged by any employer affected."

The country's second-biggest union, Unison, which has 1.3 million members, says it supports the idea of a general strike "in principle".

But sources say Unison could only join the action if it were part of a "legitimate trade dispute", and point out that it would need to notify more than 20,000 employers.

They say they have concerns about the legality of holding a general strike, which would need to be overcome before they could support it.

The TUC voted to examine the feasibility of holding a general strike last year. It has received submissions on the subject from all the major unions.

A number of unions, including Prospect, ATL and Usdaw, are understood to oppose the idea of holding a general strike.

More on this story