‘We will defend our right to strike – and our right to vote’

National conference delegates this week voiced their determination to defend their rights as trade unionists and voters – against a wave of government suppression.

A debate on defending the right to strike focussed on the government’s Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, which the Lords sent back to the House of Commons last week, for the second time, with significant amendments that water down some of its anti-trade union aspects.

Speaking of the use of work notices, which would allow employers to name specific staff on strike days – who would then be required to attend work under threat of disciplinary action or even being fired – one delegate said: “You know it will be a boss’s charter – they will name the union reps as the people required to come in, as an attempt to break the strike.”

Delegates noted that UNISON must continue to lobby the Labour Party to ensure that, if it comes to power, it follows through on its commitments to repeal this and other anti-trade union laws.

Speakers on the the motion ‘taking effective action within the straitjacket of anti-union laws’ addressed the NJC strike ballot currently underway in local government, with local government and school workers deciding whether to take industrial action over the employer’s latest below-inflation pay offer.

Introducing the motion, Kath Owen of the NEC said: “We’re in the middle of a wave of industrial action. All of you in local government branches are working your socks off to get that ballot done.”

A delegate from Leeds said: “We want local government to join in the wave of strikes that have electrified the public in the last year. Tories out – strikers in.”

Delegates passed the motion, which calls on the national executive council to:

  • devise and roll out training courses across all regions on how to organise industrial action ballots and win disputes, adjusting where appropriate for devolved public services, bargaining and employment law regulations;
  • examine and explore the organising methods used in both local and national trade union ballots that have surpassed the 50% ballot thresholds in Great Britain;
  • make recommendations on which methods of organising are key to holding successful industrial action ballots.

The motion ‘defend our right to vote – voter ID is voter suppression’ concerned the damaging consequences of the Elections Act, passed last year, which requires mandatory photo ID at all general and by-elections in the UK, and many other elections in England and Wales.

UNISON has already voiced its concern that the requirement will disenfranchise millions, particularly already disenfranchised and disadvantaged groups in society, who for various reasons, not least poverty, are unlikely to have acceptable ID such as passports and driving licences.

Proposing the motion, Becky Tye of Eastern region refuted the government assertion that the act was designed to suppress election fraud: in the 2018 general election, 58m votes were cast, with just 34 allegations of voter fraud.

Instead, she said, it was designed to “gerrymander, to manipulate the vote… to create a barrier to participation in our democracy for particularly Black people, LGBT+ people, young people, people with disabilities.”

Jacob Collier said that in the recent local council elections he encountered many people “eager and enthusiastic to vote, but unable to do so because they did not have the required photo ID.”

The government was creating “a regressive society where democratic rights have been curtailed,” he said.

“They know they can’t win [elections] with ideas, because they don’t have any. They know they can’t win on their record, because they don’t have one. So they have to sneak in by the back door.”

Passing the motion, delegates called on the NEC to:

  • work alongside the TUC, WTUC, STUC and affiliated civil liberty organisations to continue to lobby against these draconian measures;
  • work with Labour Link to influence the next Labour Party general election manifesto to commit to reversing this legislation;
  • while the law remains, to continue to campaign for other forms of ID to be acceptable such s student ID and non-photo-ID.

The article ‘We will defend our right to strike – and our right to vote’ first appeared on the UNISON National site.

Voter ID is the government’s ‘latest threat to our democracy’


UNISON has repeated its call for the government to scrap its voter ID scheme, after it was revealed that only 1% of those without valid documents have signed up to the scheme that allows them to vote.

The union has labelled the plans, which require all voters to show photo ID at polling stations before they receive a ballot paper, as “voter suppression” and a “threat to our democracy”.

While campaigning for photo ID to be removed, the union is also seeking to ensure that ­all its members know about the new requirement.

The Conservative government introduced the controversial move by passing the Election Act 2022, claiming that voter ID is a necessary precaution against voter fraud. The local elections in England on Thursday, 4 May will be the first to see the scheme in action, while, as things stand, voter ID will also feature in the general election in 2024.

UNISON is not alone in opposing the move. The Labour Party has said that the plan amounts to “vote rigging”, will discriminate against marginalised groups and lock millions of people out of the electoral process. The Scottish and Welsh governments don’t think voter identification is necessary and will not require it in local and national elections in those countries.

An estimated two million people (4% of all voters) currently lack the accepted forms of identification, which include valid passports and driving licences. Those who wish to vote must sign up for a voter authority certificate. Barely more than 20,000 have applied since the scheme was introduced in January.

UNISON has opposed the move from the outset. Among its arguments:

There is no evidence of voter fraud
According to the Electoral Commission, the UK has “low levels of proven electoral fraud”. At the last general election, 164 cases of alleged electoral fraud were investigated by police, of all types, primarily during campaigning. There was just one conviction – of a person who grabbed a ballot box to prevent others from voting. This, in an election where more than 47m votes were cast.

Voter ID could deny legitimate voters
Unlike many other European countries, the UK does not have a mandatory national ID card. For this reason, the sudden introduction of photo ID as a requirement for voting will disenfranchise significant numbers of people, without time, awareness, or perhaps means to obtain one.

It’s been estimated that when photo ID was first introduced for the Northern Ireland Assembly elections in 2004, around 25,000 people (2.3% of the electorate) did not vote because they lacked the required identification.

Photo ID discriminates
As the Electoral Reform Society points out, in the UK, “the richer you are, the more likely you have ID. Many citizens who can’t afford to go on holiday don’t have passports, and those that can’t drive don’t have driving licences.”

The society notes that the government’s own research found that those with severely limiting disabilities, the unemployed, people without qualifications, and those who had never voted before were all less likely to hold any form of photo ID.

In fact, even the government’s list of forms of ID that are permissible at the polling station is discriminatory – for example, by enabling over 60s to use their travel passes, while not allowing younger voters to do likewise.

UNISON policy officer David Arnold commented: “UNISON is saying that this is a blatant piece of voter suppression that will prevent tens of thousands of citizens from exercising their democratic right to vote.

“The government claims that there is a problem with voter fraud in Great Britain that needs to be fixed. But there is no evidence for this whatsoever. However, there is evidence – from the earlier introduction of this measure in Northern Ireland and from pilot schemes ­– that it leads to people not being able to vote.”

UNISON will campaign for the new requirement to be scrapped, Mr Arnold said. “But in the meantime, we need to ensure that as many of our members know about this new requirement and make their voices heard at the ballot box. We can’t allow the government to get away with this latest threat to our democracy.”

To see what forms of ID are permissible under the new rules and, if needed, to apply for a voter authority certificate, visit this site.

The article Voter ID is the government’s ‘latest threat to our democracy’ first appeared on the UNISON National site.