Trade Union Bill:

Trade Union Bill Is a Malicious Attack on the Workers’ Right to Organise

The government’s Trade Union Bill is a malicious attack on the dignity of the workers and their right to organise.

It threatens to introduce a 50% turnout requirement for industrial action ballots, in addition to the current requirement for a majority vote in favour of action. In addition, industrial action in “important public services” would require a positive vote by at least 40% of those entitled to vote in the ballot. These “important public services” are yet to be defined, but the health service, school education, the fire service, transport, nuclear industries and border security are the candidates. Unions would be required to include new types of information on ballot papers. Notice given to employers is extended from seven to 14 days. Mandates would expire after a four-month period after which action would require a fresh ballot. There would be new legal requirements relating to the supervision of picketing.

The Trade Union Bill does not stop there. It viciously interferes in the internal affairs of workers’ organisations. The Bill would make it unlawful to require a union member to contribute to a political fund unless they have given written consent to opt-in to this arrangement. Furthermore, the agreement would expire after five years. Unions would be required to publish details of political expenditure if exceeds £2,000 per annum, and must give detailed information on this expenditure.

Public sector unions come under especial attack. A Minister may require a public sector employer to publish information relating to facility time taken by union officials, and the Minister may regulate to restrict facility time. Yet another clause has been introduced at the Committee stage of the Bill prohibiting the deduction of union subscriptions from the wages of relevant public sector employees.

The role of the Certification Officer is politicised by introducing investigatory and enforcement powers and the power to impose financial penalties.

Where is the justice in these measures, what is the problem the government is legislating to deal with? The fact is that the workers’ right to organise to defend their interests is already shackled in so many ways, many of them dating from the Thatcher government’s anti-trade union laws. The government claims that the public is inconvenienced by “unnecessary” strikes. But reality shows that the interests of the monopolies are being imposed on society, and not only the interests of working people but the well-being of the whole of society are under attack. Who is inconveniencing whom? The anger of the junior doctors relating not only to their pay and conditions but to the future of the health service which is being jeopardised is just one of the latest examples. Not only the interests and dignity of working people is at stake, but so is the broad issue of the public good.

The government is trying to crush the right of the workers to organise, resist, and fight for the future. “Reform” of trade unions and outlawing strikes in public services is an attempt to crush and criminalise the resistance of the working class and people to the austerity agenda with its associated privatisation, cuts to public services and attacks on workers’ rights and interests. It is an attempt to prevent the workers from bringing their numbers and organisation into play in this resistance, and is itself an abuse of power by the government for which they have no mandate.

Experience also shows that those union activists and representatives of their members are themselves targeted, intimidated and victimised by their employers, particularly in the public services. This is also an attack on working women, since, as TUC data demonstrates, almost three quarters of the union members affected will be women, since women make up 67 per cent of public sector workers, 79 per cent of healthcare workers and 72 per cent of education workers. Their leverage to prevent unequal pay, discrimination and protect maternity and other rights being respected would be dramatically reduced.

What right has the government to impose such legislation in the face of the broad opposition of working people? It is displaying its crass arrogance and contempt for working people and what they hold dear. To the government, unity, solidarity, and defence of the rights of all, far from being respected, are symptomatic not of the vision and ideals of the working class, but of some dark malevolence standing in the way of their programme to impose the anti-social austerity agenda on the workers and society as a whole.

The government also refused to exclude Scotland from the scope of the Bill, despite the concern of such bodies as the Law Society of Scotland, especially as concerns the Bill’s incompatibility with human rights legislation, and the right of both Wales and Scotland to decide how to organise their own affairs with regard to the rights of workers and their organisations.

Working people are having to wage a constant battle to defend their working conditions, uphold safety and resist the encroachments on their standard of living. The organised workers’ movement, far from being “unnecessary” is vital. It has a role in demanding that the right to a livelihood be recognised. Not only that, but it must have a say in determining the direction of the economy. The government must not decide by representing the class interests of the rich, claiming to act on behalf of the society, and leave the movements of the working class and people out of account.

The government would like to wipe out the workers’ movement in its entirety. But it cannot be eliminated through legislation or state oppression. It exists in the real world, despite the protestations of Cameron and Co. It is working people who are the producers of added value, of wealth in the economy. Indeed, the programme of the working class is a broad programme for defence of the rights of all, for a new direction for society and the economy, for a way out of the crisis and the capital-centred austerity programme, and for the alternative, a new society.

The government must not be allowed to succeed with the Trade Union Bill. Resistance is growing and the mood is to make it unworkable should it become law. It must be blocked!

For further details of the Bill see [wwie45-22] (on the Bill as originally presented), and the House of Commons Briefing Paper
[] (the Committee Stage Report). The latter includes a synopsis of the House of Commons debate on the Second Reading of the Bill, as well as of the Committee Stage debate.

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