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Union Boss Calls for General Strike If Truss Curbs Powers

·3 min read

(Bloomberg) -- The UK’s most high-profile trade union boss has called for a general strike if the government tries to curb union power as proposed by Liz Truss, the front-runner to be Britain’s next prime minister.

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Mick Lynch, general secretary of the rail, maritime, and transport (RMT) union, said Truss’s plan -- which would force a minimum level of service during walkouts and raise ballot thresholds to make it harder for strikes to happen -- would cause an “enormous response from the trade union movement.”

“We need coordinated and synchronized industrial action against what they’re proposing,” Lynch said to the i newspaper. “I would be looking for a general strike if we can bring that off, but it’s up to others.”

A general strike, which can only be called in Britain by the Trades Union Congress, is when a significant proportion of workers across multiple sectors withhold their labor until their demands are met. Lynch’s threat comes at a moment of peak tension over industrial action, with the UK’s next leader due to inherit the worst relations with unions and workers since the 1970s.

Strike Threats Leave Next UK Leader Facing Winter of Discontent

Britain has already suffered four days of strikes on the railways this summer in an ongoing dispute over pay, with unions voting for another day of action Aug. 13. Barristers and post office workers have also been on strike, while teachers and doctors are considering walking out in the autumn in protest at below-inflation pay awards.

Truss, who is the widely-tipped favorite to beat Rishi Sunak to be Britain’s next leader, has promised to introduce legislation to guarantee minimum service levels on “vital national infrastructure” and raise the threshold for voting in favor of strike action from 40% to 50%, if she were to become prime minister.

“We need tough and decisive action to limit trade unions’ ability to paralyze our economy,” Truss said in a statement from her campaign team on Monday. “I will do everything in my power to make sure that militant action from trade unions can no longer cripple the vital services that hard-working people rely on.”

UK Train Drivers Cap Day of Rail Chaos With Plan for New Strike

The RMT’s Lynch said the Truss proposals would “make it virtually impossible to have effective trade unionism” and risked taking the country “back to Victorian times.”

The winner of the Conservative Party leadership race -- and Britain’s next prime minister -- is announced on Sept. 5, when Parliament returns from its summer recess. Truss, if she wins the keys to 10 Downing Street, has promised to introduce the anti-strikes legislation within 30 days of coming to power.

Keir Starmer, leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, also sought to distance himself from the strikes by firing one of his team after they joined a picket line in support of striking rail workers on Wednesday, a move that angered the trade unions who are his party’s traditional backers.

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