Persistent disruptive bouts of strike action in recent years by teachers, civil servants, firefighters, and rail and London Underground workers amongst others, sometimes called with only a small proportion of union members voting in favour of strike action, has provided the backcloth to the publication on 15 July of a Trade Union Bill by the newly elected majority Conservative government. The Bill promises (amongst a variety of other measures) the most sweeping and radical tightening of the rules on industrial action seen since the Thatcher era of the 1980s with a minimum 50 per cent ballot participation threshold alongside a requirement for unions in ‘important public services’ to obtain a minimum 40 per cent majority of all those eligible to vote. It would have a devastating effect on many unions’ ability to take lawful industrial action.
This Salford Business School Research Paper explores the following research questions:
• To what extent are the Conservatives justified in pointing to a ‘democratic deficit’ in which a majority of indifferent union members have surrendered control over whether to strike to a committed minority?
• How can we explain strike ballot participation rates? Why do some union members not vote?
• To what extent does the secret individual postal balloting process affect the level of participation?
• What other factors might potentially influence whether union members vote or not?
• How are the unions likely to fare in the face of the Conservative government’s two new balloting thresholds?