“The Tories’ renewed offensive against unions is yet another example of their attempts to distract from their disastrous handling of the cost-of-living emergency.”John McDonnell
By John McDonnell MP
On Monday, the House of Commons will again discuss the Government’s legislation attacking the right to strike, entitled the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill
In an important analysis of the Bill which can be read here, renowned experts on employment law Professor Keith Ewing and Lord John Hendy KC have warned that the proposals “give extraordinary power to the government to deny what is universally recognised as a fundamental human right.”
It is such a gross and draconian attack on peoples’ right to strike that for some workers it effectively takes away the whole right to strike. An example is air traffic control workers – there is no such thing as a minimum service guarantee in air traffic control, and the same can be said for rail signalmen. This process will extend the denial of the right to strike to whole batches of workers and is a fundamental denial of human rights.
When opposing the Bill and building continuing campaigns for our right to strike, it is important to understand what the real motivations for the Bill are. When Tory frontbenchers say that it has anything whatsoever to do with emergency measures and keeping essential public services running, they are insulting the intelligence of the British people.
The real motivations are about intimidating trade unions and in particular those who are, have been, or will be taking action for a decent pay rise in face of the Tories’ inaction.
In this sense, the Bill is an attempt to try to threaten those in negotiations with the Government at the moment, or soon to go into them.
By even bringing forward this provocative legislation during the current industrial relations climate, the Tories demonstrated a total lack of appreciation for the strength of feeling of the hundreds of thousands who have taken industrial action, and the millions more who support them.
The votes and determination of members of the NEU, PCS, ASLEF, RMT and other unions though are saying that they will not simply be browbeaten by this desperate and unpopular government.
Additionally, the Tories’ renewed offensive against – and accompanying right-wing media demonisation of – trade unions is yet another example of their usual attempts to distract from their disastrous handling of the deepening cost-of-living emergency.
As the ramblings and rants from leading Tories at the recent hard-right gatherings have starkly illustrated, the Tories will blame anyone or anything – refugees, climate protestors, striking workers, “cultural Marxism,” the EU even though we’ve left it, and the list goes on – rather than take responsibility for the mess 13 years of ideologically-driven austerity have led us into.
In the past, when Tory Governments were failing, they would usually create a war and send a gunboat. Then in the 1980s, Thatcher decided that the real enemy was within. In recent years – as industrial action to defend pay and conditions has taken place across wide sectors of the economy – we have heard the same language again, with Tory Ministers seeking to paint trade union “barons,” in reality democratically-elected leaders elected of mass organisations of working people, holding the country to ransom.
And of course, the overarching motivation is same the one that they have had since the 1980s – namely to shift the balance of power from labour to capital and from workers to employers.
That strategy has worked for decades, but people have had enough. It has impoverished working-class people, now pushed to breaking point by “greedflation” and the cost of living crisis – and that is why they have been coming out on strike, because they cannot survive on wages that are still below the level of 2008 and the derisory pay offers from the Government.
As we continue to oppose the anti-strike bill in Parliament, we need to clear that there will be – and must be – continuing mass opposition across society as well. This real opposition will not come in Parliament – although we must do all we can to support it – but will be out in the real world, including from trade unionists themselves. When the first trade unionist is sacked and the first trade union is fined, people will be out there saying they won’t have it – and all progressive movements will need to out there with them to build the biggest action possible.
As the Fire Brigades Union and their General Secretary Matt Wrack have clearly said, we must build a mass campaign of resistance to defy the Tory government’s “pernicious and draconian” anti-strike legislation. Be part of it!
- Right to Resist online rally. Wednesday May 31. 18.30. Register at http://bit.ly/righttoresist. With John McDonnell, Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP // Kate Osborne MP // Kim Johnson MP // Lord John Hendy KC // Zita Holbourne, BARAC // Myriam Kane, Black Liberation Alliance // Chantelle Lunt, Black Lives Matter & Kill the Bill // Ellen Fearon, GND Rising // Mish Rahman, Labour NEC (pc) & Momentum NCG // Rob Poole, Strikemap // Chris Peace, Orgreave Truth & Justice Campaign // Hasan Patel, Young Labour // Daniel Kebede, NEU next General Secretary// Fran Heathcote, PCS President // Alex Gordon, RMT President // Video message from Shami Chakrabarti // Christine Blower (Chair).
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