Monday, September 13, 2010

Defending our right to take action - but what next?

Congress has this afternoon been unanimous in support of Composite 1 on Employment Rights.

This motion reiterates the outrageous restrictions placed upon our right to take collective industrial action - restrictions described as "unprecedented in Europe."

There are two practical points in the motion, which builds upon existing Congress policy in support of the Trade Union Freedom Bill (which New Labour in Government refused to support).

First, the TUC is urged to support (particularly smaller) affiliated unions facing or taking legal challenges. This is a sensible proposal both because we don't want to see smaller unions bankrupted by legal costs and because legal precedents set in one case will impact upon the whole movement. We need solidarity in the courts as well as on the picket lines.

Secondly, the TUC has agreed to back John McDonnell's "Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill, supporting the lobby of Parliament on 13 October and calling upon MPs to attend the second reading of the bill on 22 October. To find out more about the Bill and to support TUC policy to campaign for it visit

Whilst we certainly need to fight for our legal rights several speakers from the rostrum raised the point that we may need to defy unjust legal restrictions if we are to protect our members and our class.

Brian Caton, former General Secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, moved a separate motion from the Annual Conference of Trades Councils which offered solidarity to "all workers in struggle, including those whose action is deemed 'unlawful.'"

This was supported by the General Council but "with an explanation" which was offered by Brendan Barber. (The explanation was that we wouldn't really be too keen on supporting unlawful action).

Support "with an explanation" at Congress is similar to NEC policy of "support with qualifications" at UNISON National Delegate Conference, which will be familiar to regular readers Sid and Doris Conference-Anorak.

Indeed UNISON policy on the Trades Council motion here was to "support with qualification" (delegates put our hands up for it but not too high...)

What struck me was that the UNISON delegation at the TUC has just voted for the (successful) Trades Council motion (albeit with qualifications) although I suspect that a similarly worded motion would have been ruled out of order for debate at our own Conference.

In recent years motions advocating defiance of the anti-union laws have been ruled out of order, so that it hasn't even been possible for Conference to have the difficult discussion about the costs and dangers of such an approach, and of the limited and extreme circumstances in which it might be warranted.

By June of next year thousands of UNISON members will (if we meant what we said this morning - and we did) be engaged in industrial disputes to protect public services. In some cases hostile employers will be tripping us up with frivolous legal challenges.

Our members won't understand if we fail to permit ourselves seriously to discuss, at our Conference, all our options to respond to such challenges.

Somehow we have to find a way of interpreting our Rules that does not prevent our Conference from even considering whether or not to support a policy which has now been adopted by the TUC.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i look forward to cross examining Clytus Williams on this issue in court next week in our case for justice.