Simon Hardy, a Right to Strike supporter from London, argues that it is urgent we get mobilising against the Trade Union Bill
The British workers’ movement is sleep walking towards total disaster. I don’t say that lightly – but the Trade Union Bill passed its second reading yesterday by 33 votes. On the protest called outside parliament there was only about 200 people, many of them from the organised left. On the same day, the TUC passed motions that limited their campaign to merely lobbying and organising a couple of demonstrations.
The Labour Party, SNP and Liberal Democrats are opposed but by current reckoning only around 3 Tory MPs, out of their 12 majority, can be shifted, which means that the bill will likely be passed into law, probably in January or February 2016.
Let us be clear about the consequences of the TU bill and what it means for trade unionists in Britain from next year. This is a strike breakers charter. Our current anti union laws make effective strike action illegal. The new proposals goes much further – they will make most strikes and actions associated with strikes illegal.
- The higher ballot thresholds of 50% or 60% will make most strike action very hard to organise. The government already thinks that will reduce strike action by another 60% below its already rock bottom levels.
- Agency staff can be used to break strikes meaning many strikes can be undermined and defeated quickly.
- “Intimidation on the picket line” will now become a criminal offence with a fine or even a prison sentence attached. This means calling someone a scab or blocking a doorway to prevent people going into work could land you in prison.
- It represents a financial attack on trade unions. The certification officer will be given powers to audit any union at any time and then charge the union for the cost.
- The bill will have huge implications for trade union funding of Labour – which with Corbyn in charge will rely even more on members and trade union money.
Unity urgently needed
Yet, despite the greatest threat facing the Trade Union movement since we won formal legality in 1871. With the TUC abdicating responsibility for really winning this struggle, it falls even more to campaigners and activists to get organised to put pressure on the TUC and MPs to shift the balance of forces.
Yet currently, all we can see is the left going through the usual motions. We currently have four campaigns alongside the TUCs non-effort. Right to Strike, Unite the Resistance, National Shop Stewards Network and the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom. Unless we get a proper coordination of efforts and a plan of action then we will be reduced to bystanders whilst the Tories wrap our movement in chains.
Be prepared to break the law
If the law is passed then as a movement we need to be standing in complete solidarity with people who are fined or imprisoned. Unite has already changed its rules to say it would be willing to take strike action even if it contravened the law – but we will need action across the workers’ movement to make the law unworkable.
There is a real danger though that some people assume that people will simply resist these new regulations. Perhaps – or perhaps not. In many countries there are very severe limitations on trade union rights which limits the ability of people to organise and can mean some of your most active people are doing regular prison time. If trade unions aren’t willing to take much action in the current set up – it will probably get worse under the new laws.
What comes next?
Finally, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell spoke in a public meeting in Parliament on Monday night as the bill was being debated. He explained how the bill is simply the opening salvo to a much wider attack on human rights and civil liberties. After all, if they get this bill passed then not only will the Labour party be financially devastated it will make most forms of trade union resistance impossible. In war you attack your enemies ability to organise before you strike at their heart.
Putting the Trade Union Bill in the context of the wider attacks is crucial. After all, trade union rights are human rights, if they come for the trade unionists and win then they will come for everyone else next.
Right to Strike is campaigning to co-ordinate branches across the country to take action against the bill and be prepared to take action if it becomes law. If you haven’t passed the resolution in your branch yet then do so as soon as you can.
Time is running out…