LAST weekend, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) called its first special congress since 1982 in order to flesh out its existing position of non-compliance with – and defiance of – the Tories’ Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023.

Earlier, at its annual congress in September, the TUC agreed: “We have no choice but to build mass opposition to the MSLs laws, up to and including a strategy of non-compliance and non-co-operation to make them unworkable, including industrial action.”

There were fiery phrases and angry articulation last Saturday. In the lead-up to the special congress, the TUC vowed: “We won’t stop defending the right to strike … [and] we won’t stop until [the Act] is repealed … we won’t rest.”

On the day itself, general secretary Paul Nowak stated: "We won’t be quiet. We won’t be bullied. And we won’t be intimidated by this government.”

But what the special congress agreed to was, as expected, pretty mediocre to say the least. It did not call for mass pro-active resistance and defiance but, rather, in reactive mode, offered support to affiliates if they choose to go down the non-compliance route. A national demonstration against the anti-strike law will take place in Cheltenham on January 27.

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Demonstrations will be called if a work notice is issued and a union or worker is sanctioned for not complying. Legal challenges domestically and internationally will continue.

Labour will be asked to hold to their commitment to repeal the legislation within its first 100 days of office as a new government and all employers and public bodies will be called upon to oppose the legislation.

This is the path of lesser resistance, repeating the historical parallel of 1982 when a special congress said all the right things against the first two Thatcherite anti-unions laws of 1980 and 1982.

But come the Stockport Messenger dispute between Eddie Shah and the National Graphical Association (NGA) print union in 1983, all that melted away, leaving the NGA to fight on its own.

It lost and lost badly. The same pattern was repeated over the miners’ strike of 1984-85 and the News International Wapping dispute of 1986-1987. Just as worryingly, even if Labour win the next General Election, this may not be held until January 28, 2025.

And if Labour do win, their pledge to repeal the legislation within 100 days will be subject to there being sufficient time within the parliamentary timetable.

All this means the precedent set by the Scottish Government could be critical in putting some meat on the bones of the rhetoric of defiance and non-compliance. At the annual meeting of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) in Dundee in April, First Minister Humza Yousaf declared: “Be in no doubt, the Scottish Government will never issue or enforce a single work notice. We will continue to do everything we can to oppose this disgraceful, abhorrent legislation. It has no place here in Scotland.”

While he was under pressure from the STUC to say that, the statement was compatible with the Scottish Government’s Fair Work policy.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and currently TUC president, was the first union leader outside of Scotland to pick up on the significance of this.

He has consistently and frequently argued that the Scottish Government has helped set a powerful precedent which should be used to cajole other devolved and local governments south of the Border to do likewise.

Public service employers do not have to issue work notices as they are not mandatory. Instead, it is a matter of choice, when their workforces in education, fire and rescue, health, and transport take industrial action – four of the six sectors covered by the new law.

The Welsh Government pledged to “explore every possible option” to avert any prospect of work notices being issued in Welsh public services.

The mayors of London, Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, North of Tyne and Bristol and council leaders in Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield issued a similar statement. But exploring every possible option is not the same as stating they will never issue or enforce a single work notice.

It has to be noted that those making the far lesser pledge – bar one – are all Labour politicians.

The TUC and unions should be calling on these leaders to repeat exactly what the Scottish Government has pledged to do. They should also be calling on Keir Starmer to tell Labour leaders in any public body to make the same cast-iron vow. And Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar should be playing his part by calling upon Starmer to get these Labour leaders to follow the lead of the Scottish Government.

Gregor Gall is a visiting professor of industrial relations at the University of Leeds and author of the forthcoming book Mick Lynch: The making of a working-class hero (Manchester University Press)