They Call It The Law

If anybody was under any illusions that the 'law' treated trade unionists fairly, or was in some way neutral when it came to trade disputes, the events of a few weeks in late May/early June should have been enough to rid them of such silly notions.

Firstly we had the Aer Lingus pilots' dispute. As with any strike &endash; or even work-to-rule &endash; the red tape which must be gone through in order to make any action official is often enough to render the action ineffective. As a result of the Industrial Relations Act, the pilots' union had to serve seven days' notice of their strike on the company. This of course meant that Aer Lingus had plenty of time to organise scabs to undermine the strike. Ironically, the only day of the dispute when any Aer Lingus planes actually took to the air was on the day the pilots were on strike.

Aer Lingus management responded to the pilots' one-day strike by unilaterally locking them out, announcing that they would not resume flights until they were sure there would be no more industrial action. How come, one might ask, the management did not have to give the same notice as the workers? Did the workers &endash; even the customers &endash; of the company not deserve the same amount of notice just because the action was precipitated by the management?

The answer, as we know, is of course no. One law for them and another for us. If further proof of the bias of the law against workers taking action to preserve their job security was needed, we didn't have to wait long. In early June wheel clampers in the Dublin City Council area (not directly employed by the City Council, but by a contractor) took strike action in protest at the fact that union members were passed over for promotion. Management scabbed on the strike so the workers attempted to place effective pickets on the depot to prevent the clamping vans being driven out. The 'law' arrived in the form of several cops and 25 of the strikers were arrested under the Public Order Act, their crime being to defend their working conditions.

This is nothing new of course. Since the foundation of capitalism, the bosses have relied on the 'law' to protect their interests. Since the foundation of trade unionism, workers in struggle have always found themselves coming up against that 'law'. At times in history, such as the 1913 lockout in Dublin, and more recently e.g. the miners' strike in Britain in the 1980s the force of the 'law' has been very brutal. At other times it has been the threat &endash; and enforcement &endash; of court injunctions that has blunted effective action.

More and more groups of workers are beginning to realise that effective action cannot always be 'within the law'. When the law gets in the way, it too must be defied and we cannot and must not allow the union bureaucrats to tie our hands by tying us to 'the law'.

Gregor Kerr

See also

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This edition is No71 published in July 2002

Workers Solidarity 71