Tuesday, June 13, 2006

GMB: Kenny threatens 'illegal' industrial action

It’s years since I can recall hearing the general secretary of a major British union argue openly that the anti-union laws – praised by Tony Blair as the most restrictive in the developed world – are there to be broken.

So I nearly choked on my morning croissant when I read the following outburst from Paul Kenny of the GMB in this morning’s FT [subscription required]:

‘One of the biggest unions has threatened mass illegal picketing at offices of agency workers if the Asda supermarket chain tries to use them as strike breakers.

‘The GMB, which is holding its annual conference in Blackpool, is balloting about 7,000 Asda distribution workers for strike action in a long-running dispute over national bargaining rights and pay.

‘Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary, accused Asda yesterday of preparing to hire agency workers if distribution staff voted for a strike. He said this would be illegal under employment agency legislation introduced in 2004.

‘"If anyone thinks I am going into a dispute playing by the Marquis of Queensberry rules while they hire in labour in order to do our members' jobs while they are in legitimate, legal, lawful dispute then you are living in cuckoo land," said Mr Kenny.

‘"I will be calling for the massed ranks of the GMB and other trade unionists to picket depots wherever these scabs come in to try to do our members' jobs.

‘"You cannot have a law that the employers can ignore but binds us. If they are going to break the law, we will both break the law."’

I was aware of Kenny’s reputation as a leftie during his time in charge of the union’s London region. But I didn’t have him down as ready to take this kind of stand.

So ... is he all mouth and no trousers, or the second coming of Arthur Scargill? Opinions welcome, especially from GMB members.

Of course, there’s a big gap between talking the talk and walking the walk, so we’ll just have to see what he delivers. But perhaps this outburst is another pointer to a changing mood in the British labour movement.

Oh, and US readers take note: Asda is of course the UK subsidiary of Wal-Mart, the famously anti-union US union chain. So any victory this side of the pond could boost the struggle on the other side of the Atlantic, too.

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