Human Rights, Labor Rights, and International Trade

By Lance A. Compa; Stephen F. Diamond | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Human Rights and Labor Rights A European Perspective

Denis MacShane

During much of the 1980s labor lawyers who met me in Britain often paused to look me hard in the face. "Not the MacShane, as in MacShane v. Express Newspapers" they would say. The case was simple. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) of which I was then president had ordered journalists in the British Press Association, the British news agency, not to supply copy to provincial newspapers whose journalists were on a wage strike. Using news agency copy, the editors and strikebreakers could produce papers, thus rendering the strike ineffective. Without the copy their task became much more difficult. The NUJ's call for solidarity to the Press Association journalists, while obvious enough to a trade unionist, raised questions of secondary action, third-party involvement, and the contractual obligations of the agency -- itself part-owned by the provincial press -- as well as technical questions of interference with telex landlines.

The newspapers sought an injunction. I quickly appeared in front of Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls, which is English law-speak for the Chief Appeal Judge. Denning was one of Britain's most anti-union and anti-labor jurists, even by the standards of the English legal system. (In his retirement he also let loose his racist views, but that is another story.) During the 1970s he had taken every opportunity to interfere judicially in favor of employers and capital. In the NUJ case, he naturally found for the newspaper owners. The case was considered important enough to be taken to the House of Lords, Britain's Supreme Court. There the Law Lords (Supreme Court Justices) found Denning was wrong and the law, as it stood at the time, had permitted what my union had ordered.

But it was all too late to affect the conflict. As I write, I have on my desk an ILO ruling published in March 1992 on a case involving

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