The fight for workers’ rights & union freedom – Anticipating TUC Congress & beyond


“The rotten Tory Government has run its course & it can only use the full weight of the law against its opponents – trade unions, our members & working people more generally.”

Adrian Weir

By Adrian Weir, Campaign for Trade Union Freedom

Trying to divine what actually happened at Labour’s recent National Policy Forum is more difficult than breaking into a papal conclave.

Labour’s Green Paper New Deal for Working People was, and hopefully remains, the Party’s best offer on trade union and worker rights in a generation, certainly since the early 1970s. So why are the decisions of the NPF on these issues being kept under wraps?

Deputy Leader of the Party, Angela Rayner MP, who has overall responsibility for employment rights remains upbeat but enigmatic, a little short on detail.

Andy McDonald MP, largely responsible for writing the Green Paper, tries to pry all of this open in a recent feature article in the Morning Star. Although generally optimistic Andy does raise some issues of serious concern.

For example, it seems that the word “exploitative” has been added to the text on the proposed ban on zero hours contacts. Most observers, and certainly most workers who work under these arrangements, would argue that all ZHCs are exploitative and that there is no need for such a qualification.

Further, apparently there has been some movement on the commitment to have a single status of “worker” other than for the genuinely self-employed; absolutely necessary to end the scourge of bogus self-employment endemic from construction to courier delivery workers. The word is that there will be “consultation” on single status; the affiliated unions will no doubt want to press that this is consultation on the implementation and not consultation on the principle.

Thirdly, although the commitment to roll out sectoral collective bargaining remains, with the care sector targeted for the first Fair Pay Agreement, concern has been raised that the care sector may be the first and also the last of these agreements.

Finally, the Green Paper promises a repeal of the anti-union laws. These go back to 1980 and the start of the neo-liberal period. Now is not the time to cherry pick, to repeal this aspect but not something other. We do need a comprehensive repeal and the introduction of a new framework of rights at work.

At the TUC Congress, shortly to convene in Liverpool, there are a number motions that may or may not be composited calling for a comprehensive repeal and a clearly defined right to strike plus a further motion calling for action on one-sided flexibility at work, particularly zero hours contracts.

These motions will surely be carried by the Congress and so will give the Labour affiliated unions a platform from which to defend the Green Paper in its entirety at Labour Party Conference in October.

There will a General Election in 2024 so the Labour affiliated unions will have a further opportunity, at the Clause V meeting, to ensure that the Green Paper proposals are included in Labour’s Manifesto. Although if there’s no agreement before then it would seem that relying on Clause V is like drinking in the last chance saloon.

Leaving conference manoeuvring to one side it’s clear that recent Tory public order laws, not yet refuted by Labour, will make picketing and protesting effectively unlawful; whilst minimum service levels will virtually make it unlawful to go on strike in key public services.

These are all signs that the rotten Tory Government has run its course and it can only use the full weight of the law against its opponents – trade unions, our members and working people more generally.

Come along to the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom with the Institute of Employment Rights fringe meeting (sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors) at the TUC Congress to hear about the fight back.

  • Adrian Weir is Assistant Secretary of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom and TULO Officer at Hornsey & Wood Green CLP. Follow him on Twitter here and CTUF here.
  • TUC Fringe Meeting: Trade Unions and the Law: The Drift to Authoritarianism. Sunday 10 September, close of Congress, in the Love Lane Brewery, 62 Bridgewater Street, Liverpool, L1 0AY. With John Hendy KC & Prof Keith Ewing, Campaign for Trade Union Freedom & Institute of Employment Rights // Mick Lynch, RMT // Daniel Kebede, NEU // Mick Whelan, ASLEF // Prof Lydia Hayes, IER // Tony Wright, Unison NEC // Asad Rehman, War on Want // Neil Todd, Thompsons Solicitors // Sarah Woolley, BFAWU.
Featured image: Protect the right to strike banner at an RMT picket line.

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