“With more attacks on trade unions prominent in the Prime Minister’s recent Tory Party Conference speech… it is clear that they are preparing to blame unions for many of the economic troubles that their disastrous neo-liberal agenda has in fact brought about.”
By Adrian Weir
Amid the deepest cost-of-living crisis in generations, our trade union rights – already some of the most limited in Europe – are under fresh assault from the Tories and their billionaire backers.
These amount to a major new wave of attacks on our unions and relate to broader Tory attacks on our right to resist. Such moves seek to dampen opposition to the Tories’ reactionary agenda. They have included – but are not limited to – the widely despised Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill, the recent Public Order Bill, proposed ‘reforms’ to the Human Rights Act and, of course, the earlier Trade Union Act of 2016.
In terms of the latest attacks, in the dying days of the deeply discredited Johnson government, the Tories pushed through changes to the law that allowed employers to use agency labour to break a strike.
Additionally, they increased the amount of statutory damages that could be awarded against a union for backing its striking members.
The TUC is already pursuing a legal route to challenge these measures as they threaten what remains of our right to strike, and over 25,000 people have signed a TUC petition against allowing the use of agency workers to break strikes.
Now, the Truss government is intending not only to abolish the Working Time Directive but to impose on striking unions a minimum service requirement. This would be a legal obligation on unions to ensure that enough of their members are at work to provide a minimum service. In other words, it aims at making trade unions undermine their own industrial action!
With more attacks on trade unions prominent in the Prime Minister’s recent Tory Party Conference speech, this is just one example of the now daily verbal attacks on our unions from the Government. It is clear that they are preparing to blame unions for many of the economic troubles that their disastrous neo-liberal agenda has in fact brought about.
Additionally, the ongoing public support for the rail unions’ wave of strike action has no doubt added to Truss’s rush to further attack our unions. As RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said when Truss put her anti-union proposals at the forefront of her campaign to be Tory leader, her plans are “a direct attack on one of the main pillars of our democracy… the right for a trade union to freely organise and take appropriate industrial action.”
As Mick added, in effect, “she’s seeking to make effective industrial action illegal, so people will have to use other means to take action and respond to the employers.”
But there is an alternative: a better future where unions are free of anti-union laws – free to protect their members, free to bargain on even footing, free to do as their members democratically choose, and free with a right to strike.
As part of this, we need to keep up the pressure to ensure a full implementation by Labour of its Green Paper New Deal for Working People as agreed at Labour Conference 2021.
Now is the time to fight back. On December 3rd come and join the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom Conference – be part of mobilising and supporting a major trade union campaign to fight against attacks on workers’ and union rights.
- Join the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom (CTUF) Conference “From Pentonville to P&O: Union rights & Tory wrongs – campaigning for free trade unions” on Saturday December 3rd. Hosted by the CTUF and supported by the Institute for Employment Rights (IER). Register and find out more here.
- Adrian Weir is Assistant Secretary of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom. You can follow CTUF on Facebook and twitter.
- This article was originally published by Labour Hub on October 14th, 2022.