The economic project that has dominated politics since the 1970s has had at its heart the strangulation of the Trade Unions. Why? Because it is the unions which stand as a last line of defence against repeated Government attempts to privatise, deregulate and cut back on the public services upon which we all rely.
The results of that economic project – skyrocketing inequality, the loss of thousands of public sector jobs and increasingly precarious work for many – are plain to see. For more than 30 years, successive Governments have sold off our national assets and deregulated our economy – but to continue the project the Conservatives know they need to remove a key barrier to change: the remaining power of the millions of members of Britain’s trade unions.
As the Trade Union Bill came to Parliament for its second reading yesterday, we saw the Conservative Party attempting to put a final nail in the coffin of a labour movement already hamstrung by some of the strictest union rules in the Western world. Unionisation has declined from a peak of nearly half the workforce in 1981, to just a quarter today – but that’s still not enough for the Tories.
The Bill itself is a truly appalling piece of legislation: it limits people’s right to strike, it forces union organisers to wear "armbands" to identify themselves, and sets unfairly strict thresholds for strike ballots. It is nothing short of a vindictive assault on UK employment rights – hitting at the heart of protections enshrined in international conventions. Indeed, for a Government elected by only 24 per cent of eligible voters to propose a 40 per cent 'yes' threshold for public sector strikes truly reeks of hypocrisy.
The Government's Bill also completely underestimates the contribution that trade unions make to our economy. A new paper by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) and The University of Greenwich shows that strong unions make both a positive impact on the economy as a whole – and they help narrow inequality. Flourishing economies, they argue, are nearly always "wage led" – and decline in union density has slowed economic development in countries around the world. Their conclusion is stark: “If the recovery from the recession is to be placed on a secure footing, the status of trade unions as an essential part of sound economic policymaking must be restored.”
Unions are good for the workers who join them and good for the economy as a whole – the Tories latest attack is purely ideological.
The Bill passed its second reading late last night but the fight against it doesn’t stop there. I’ll be working with MPs and peers from across the political parties in fighting this draconian piece of legislation as it progresses through Parliament. The effects of this bill will be chilling – people’s fundamental right to strike will be threatened and our economy will be further hit. It’s for these reasons that – if the Bill is does pass into law – I’m prepared to join trade unionists and others in taking non-violent direct action to resist it.Reuse content