Saturday, July 18, 2015
The first shot in the war on trade unionism
I go on leave for a week to enjoy the sunshine in Sussex and the Government introduces draconian restrictions on the rights of workers to organise and take action as trade unionists (in the Trade Union Bill).
This isn’t quite the existential threat to trade unionism itself which many of us continue to anticipate. The easy-to-legislate-for threat to the finances of the major trade unions, successfully piloted twenty two years ago, has not (yet) been resurrected.
The Tory Government aren’t (yet) quite returning to the Combination Acts, but they want only timid and tame trade unionism on their own terms. They don’t want industrial action, and they want depoliticised trade unions (with the beneficial side effect of undermining the income of the main opposition Party). Furthermore they want to uproot workplace trade union activism with an attack upon trade union “facility time”.
Apolitical, collaborationist organisations run by paid officials rather than lay activists are the only sort of trade unions which this Government would want to tolerate (for a time). This is a more intelligent - and therefore more dangerous - attack than one which sought to wipe us out completely, since it does not immediately threaten the livelihoods of the officials of the movement.
However, toothless trade unions would be worthless for workers and the future of our movement if we acquiesced in these attacks would be one of continuing decline into irrelevance. If this Bill passes another, within a couple of years, will come along to finish the job.
Official opposition to the new Bill has been expressed by our General Secretary and by the TUC and the Trade Union Group of MPs. I am pleased that my own UNISON Branch Committee agreed to help initiate a new rank and file campaign to mobilise branch level opposition to this legislative attack across the trade unions.
Without doubt, the first step in our response to this assault upon workers’ rights must be to resist – but we must also prepare our organisations to continue to be battle ready whatever happens in Parliament. We need to build trade unions which are more democratic, more political and more willing to take action.