JUST days after Chancellor Osborne unveiled his second budget plans to put the whole burden of the capitalist crisis onto the backs of the working class, the youth, the sick and on millions of ordinary families, the new anti-union laws have been published that prove that, to carry out his programme, the ruling class realises that it must smash the right to strike and break the unions.
What is proposed is that unless 50% of the workforce votes, a strike will be illegal, even if it passes a new legal barrier of a 40% ‘yes’ vote to make the action legal. There is to be a double threshold of a 50% turn out and a 40% ‘yes’ vote for any strike to be legal in health, education, fire, transport, border security and also the energy sectors.
Unlawful or intimidatory picketing is to be a criminal offence. There are to be protections for strike breakers, employers will be allowed to hire strike breaking agency staff, and a named union official will be required to be available at all times to the police to oversee the picket including the numbers on the line, currently set at six, and to be legally responsible for their conduct.
In a dual attack on unions and the Labour Party, all unions will be required to ask workers if they wish to opt in to paying the political levy to the Labour Party and they will have to be asked every five years. All unions will have to reballot after four months, and give a boss a fortnight’s notice before strike action starts.
The government is to set a limit on the time that a public sector worker can spend on union duties.
The response of the union leaders has been mixed. ASLEF, whose members have been forced to strike on the Tube by a provocative employer, commented: ‘It smacks of Germany in the 1930s when trade union leaders and activists were rounded up, and imprisoned, and, in some cases, executed. The Nazis banned unions and strikes in 1933 and that is what the Tories are trying to do now. They want to effectively neuter the unions – the only part of civil society now able to fight back – in Britain.
‘The Tories are trying to smash the trade unions because they know we are the only thing that stands between them, and the class they represent, and a return to Victorian values …’
The NASUWT teachers’ union, whose members have been on the business end of many Tory attacks, also commented: ‘Attacks are planned by government on the Human Rights Act, which includes the right of freedom of association and the right to education. The renegotiation of the UK’s membership of the EU focuses almost entirely on the treaty provisions which affect the rights of working people.
‘The Education and Adoption Bill not only removes parents’ fundamental rights to have a say in the type of school in which their child is educated, it abolishes any mechanism through which they can raise legitimate concerns. The extensions to the legislation on extremism give breath-taking powers to government further to trample the rights of individuals.
It concluded: ‘The Trade Union Bill and all this other legislation have a chilling common theme, to restrict, stifle and silence opposition and attack our fundamental democratic rights and freedoms. Now is the time for all those who value the hard-fought-for democratic rights and freedoms to expose and oppose the government’s real agenda.’
However, both Unison and Unite, the two largest trade unions, are pulling their punches on these new laws. Unison leader Prentis said: ‘The Bill proves that the government is not on the side of working people. These unfair changes will make it much harder for nurses, teaching assistants, midwives and other public sector workers to ever strike for a pay rise or challenge the behaviour of bad employers.’
Prentis must be the only person in the country to need proof that the Tories are not the workers’ party that they claim to be. Unite’s McCluskey said ‘I appeal to the government to think again. Do not go back to the days of trade unions being “the enemy within”.’
There is no point in pleading with the Tories. It is now crystal clear that great class battles are immediately ahead. Leaders who do not intend to fight and beat the Tories must be made to resign now. There must be a special TUC Congress to change its leadership and organise indefinite strike action to bring down the Tories and bring in a workers’ government.