‘I’M CALLING for a general strike to smash this bill,’ Bakers Union leader Ian Hodson told News Line on Monday afternoon in Westminster, where more than 5,000 trade unionists were holding a rally and lobby of parliament against the Tory government’s Trade Union Bill.
Hodson, National President of the BFAWU (Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union), said: ‘The Tories have never responded to unions being meek and mild. We have to be prepared to take general strike action to defeat this anti-democratic attack which breaches human rights. The TUC should call for the trade union movement to not recognise the bill and it should take up its responsibility to call a general strike of all affiliates.’
The Trade Union Bill, which is currently going through parliament, requires a minimum of 50% of members to vote in a strike ballot, with 40% of the entire membership voting in favour. It legalises agency workers being used to break strikes, demands 14 days notice of strike action, requires the appointment of picket supervisors identifiable by an armband or badge who must carry a letter of authorisation which must be available to be presented upon request to the police or ‘to any other person who reasonably asks to see it’, with the supervisor’s details being given to the police.
At the rally in Central Halls, Westminster, many trade union leaders spoke out against the bill without calling for the necessary general strike action to defeat it, while inside and outside the rally, union members and union reps from all over the country were not so reticent.
Paula Lawless, welfare officer Salford City Unison said: ‘We need a general strike to smash the bill. All these mini strikes don’t work. We need to bring the country to a standstill,’ Paula insisted: ‘We’ve had too many cuts to services, I work with children who are really suffering, it was on the news today that there will be 100,000 children homeless this Christmas. It’s disgusting. We’ve got colleagues going to food banks. We need a general strike to kick the Tories out.’
Peter Asquith-Cowen, Unite, Kingston-Upon-Hull, said: ‘We should have a complete general strike and bring the Tories to their knees, like in 1926. That’s the way to smash the bill.’ Dawn Wheelhouse, Unison lead steward Education, Kirklees, near Huddersfield, said: ‘A general strike is the only way. There’s no point in one-by-one. It’s got to be full-on. And it shouldn’t be just 24-hours either. It should be sustained. If this bill goes through we should take illegal action.’
Helene Henson, Unite, Kirklees, said: ‘There’s no other way. A general strike is imperative. It’s a must.’ Deborah Heap, Unison steward, Kirklees, said: ‘I agree. We need an all-out strike, not just one day and not just one union. This is for our children and grandchildren.’ Gary Cook, GMB, Southampton, said: ‘Direct action. That’s what’s needed, people on the streets, same as how we beat the poll tax.’
Colin Knowles, Unison Convenor Halton, near Liverpool, said: ‘It’s a disgusting attack on our civil liberties and our democratic right to strike. It takes us back to the Combination Acts and illegalises the right to organise. A general strike is the way to defeat it.’
Martin Harding, Brigade Chair Cambridge FBU, said: ‘It’s shocking, taking us back to past Victorian standards with the most repressive trade union regulations. The TUC must take the difficult choice, because there is no other option left, to remove their labour and call a general strike. Anybody that has an ounce of sense can see the benefit of working together, ie solidarity, to improve and defend conditions. The only way forward is to move collectively.’ Tim Roache, GMB Yorkshire and Derbyshire Regional Secretary, said: ‘I think we need to oppose this bill in every way. It is the issue that will bring people out in a general strike.’
At the rally inside the hall, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘I’m proud that the whole movement is up for action to defeat this bill, which is a massive attack on the right to strike. Lifting the ban on agency workers being used to break our picket lines is something we can never accept. Don’t you dare think you can get away with it. We will never give up. This bill is unfair and undemocratic. It will impose on trade unions the only ballot in Britain to count abstentions as a No vote.
‘Strike action is the only way to resolve some disputes. Throughout history strikes have been used to change the law. We’ve got to show that this draconian bill is an attack not just on trade unions but on all working people. Today is just the beginning of our fight.’
Paul Maloney, GMB Southern Regional Secretary, told the rally: ‘Thatcher called the trade unions the enemy within. Well, the trade unions represent the working class and the whole purpose of this bill is to keep working people in poverty wages while the party of the bankers and the bosses looks after its own.
‘Let’s expose Cameron and his cronies for what they are – anti-working people. If the same ballot restrictions contained in this bill were applied to parliament there would be just 16 MPs. Let me say this, I’ll be first on the picket line and there will be no agency workers crossing picket lines where I’m standing. The GMB and the trade union movement must come together to defeat this bill.’
Sheila Hassan, President of the Society of Radiographers, said: ‘As well as everything else, this bill contains measures to attack trade union facility time, which will reduce unions’ ability to represent their members. There are times when we are pushed to the limits and strike action is the only course possible. This bill is an outrageous attack on the very existence of trade unions.’
Jon Skewes, Royal College of Midwives Director of Policy, said: ‘Last year, for the first time in the 134 years of our existence, midwives took strike action. After years of pay cuts, staff across the country stood on picket lines. We are facing a secretary of state who talks about midwives killing babies, especially at weekends. How dare he!
‘We won a paltry 1%, but we also won our self respect. It wasn’t a strike against patients, it was a strike against the government. This legislation says it’s okay to break strikes using agency workers. We say No. We say protect the right to strike.’
Jill Barker, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy rep, said: ‘Physios have been on strike just twice in the last 30 years. This bill is an attack on our fundamental democratic rights. Agency strikebreakers are unsafe in the NHS. Let’s defeat this bill.’
Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said: ‘According to the Health Secretary, the BMA are fomenting dissent among junior doctors and he’d like to ban them from striking. This bill imposes the requirement for super majorities in strike ballots that would never work. No MPs would ever be elected under such conditions.
‘Conservative MPs have described the measures as worthy of Franco’s government. I’d like to finish with what Eleanor Marx told the first ever May Day Rally. She quoted Shelley’s invocation, “Rise, like lions after slumber: In unvanquishable number! Shake your chains to earth like dew: Which in sleep had fallen on you: Ye are many – they are few!”.’
FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack, said: ‘This bill is a fundamental attack on workers’ rights. For us, today has to be the start of the campaign not the end of it. They intend to privatise our jobs and our pensions. the trade unions are the first line of defence. The challenge is to create a mass movement to stop the Tories in their tracks. We need to recognise the scale of the attack, get organised and get ready to fight back.’
Dave Ward, General Secretary of the CWU, started by saying: ‘We need your support to get the post renationalised.’ He continued: ‘This bill goes beyond anything Thatcher ever did. It gives the police increased powers to go snooping around. It leaves pickets facing the full force of the law. It pits agency workers against pickets. What comes next?
‘We’ve got to make sure that every union and the TUC up the ante. We need a day of action, a programme of on-going action. We have to go further than we have gone in recent history. We must take all means necessary to oppose this bill. Let’s start planning for action from today.’
Liz Snape, President of the TUC, said: ‘This time they have gone too far. Today it falls to our generation to save the trade union movement. Let’s start fighting.’ Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey said: ‘We are not going to stand by and see this Tory government trash our rights.
‘Vince Cable, the Police Federation, Amnesty, Liberty, leading Tories like David Davies all oppose the bill, not a single CEO (chief executive officer) is in favour of this bill. However, we have to consider what happens if this bill goes through and we are subjected to this draconian attack on our unions. We believe this bill will push us outside the law. We are not prepared to abandon our members. History is littered with brave men and women who stood up and defied the law. I recently wrote to the prime minister and said if he is really concerned about turnout in ballots just give us electronic voting. The real purpose behind the bill is to emasculate our movement. The time is arriving when we will have to stand together and defy the law. We must stand together in solidarity.’
Monday’s lobby and rally must pave the way for action. The Tories can’t be persuaded to change their minds and drop their bill – that’s obvious. So the General Council of the TUC has got to get off its knees and do what the majority of workers want it to do – that’s to call a general strike to bring down these Tories, smash the anti-union laws and prepare the way for a workers government and socialism.