TRADE union leaders on Wednesday reacted angrily to the Tories’ planned anti-union legislation and welfare cuts announced in the Queen’s Speech.
Paul Kenny, GMB General Secretary, said: ‘This is just the same old Tories who are anti-trade union and anti-working people having a voice and anti-democratic. It’s one rule for the Tory slush fund, hedge funds and another for trade union members. This will not deter or silence the voices of millions of working people who already given their approval for political funds through democratic ballots governed by statute.
‘It will bring state funding for political parties a step nearer. It is not sustainable to allow the elite and companies unfettered and unlimited rights to fund the Tory Party while shackling the bodies that have funded the political opposition to them for more than a century. As for strike ballots, these proposed rules will run the risk of an increase in unofficial stoppages. This Queen’s Speech gives no hope for the millions on zero hours contracts or those struggling to get by on low pay. It is just more dogma from the Tory class warriors representing the rich and powerful.’
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘Working people will be worried by a Queen’s Speech that declares open season on so many of their rights and protections. A government that claimed to be on the side of working people now wants to tip the balance of power against them with draconian restrictions on the right to strike.
‘The real agenda is stopping public sector workers from fighting back against the extreme cuts and pay freezes expected in George Osborne’s budget. David Cameron has positioned himself as the Prime Minister for bad bosses, ready to chip away at paid holidays, rest breaks and maternity rights in EU negotiations.
‘The TUC wants Britain to remain at the heart of a fair Europe for working people, but it won’t help people vote to stay if EU protections on decent pay and conditions are lost. The Queen’s Speech signals a new assault on the safety net any one of us might need one day if we lose our job or become ill. We need a restoration of job guarantees for young people, not a second class system of social security protection.
‘Children account for three in every four people hit by the benefit cap, so lowering the cap will make child poverty worse. We should instead be dealing with root causes like the lack of affordable housing in London.’
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: ‘This Queen’s Speech confirms that the Tories are hell-bent on ratcheting up their anti-union laws. That is nothing new and these plans will continue to meet the fiercest possible resistance. This is the clearest possible case of one law for the political class and another for the working class. Only a tiny handful of the hypocrites advocating these ballot thresholds has ever been elected on the same kind of percentages they are demanding in a strike vote. The front line of defence against cuts and austerity is the organised working class and that is why the Tories and big business want to tighten the legal noose around our necks. That’s the same as it ever was and they will have a fight on their hands.’
Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary, said: ‘This was a divisive Queen’s Speech that identifies trade unionists, migrants and people on benefits as the enemy of this government. Elected by just 24% of the electorate, the government has put forward an equally narrow agenda. Imposing a threshold of 50% turnouts on union ballots is absurd when most councillors, MEPs, police and crime commissioners and the London Mayor were elected on lower turnouts. It exposes this as an ideological attack on working people fighting to defend their jobs and services.’
Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘This is a Queen’s Speech which entrenches inequality. Visits to foodbanks will increase as benefit cuts bite, the sale of housing association stock will not address the housing crisis and more families will be uprooted due to the bedroom tax. The concern for so called, although as yet undefined “coasting schools” will not be addressed by forced academisation. Along with the LGA, the NUT believes it should be for local authorities to assist schools.
‘This would be preferable to sacking headteachers and silencing opposition to academisation – by doing away with the already minimal level of consultation. What’s more, we know from research into the London Challenge that schools working together create sustainable improvement. The government justifies this extended and accelerated privatisation of our school system by claiming that it cares about standards. Yet there is now a mountain of evidence which shows that there is no academy effect on standards in schools.
‘Indeed, research by the Sutton Trust concluded that the very poor results of some chains – both for pupils generally and for the disadvantaged pupils they were particularly envisaged to support – comprised “a clear and urgent problem”. The free schools already in existence have wasted vast amounts of taxpayers’ money, often set up in areas of little or no need while other areas suffer a school place shortage. Provision for 500 more free schools will simply escalate this problem.
‘Head teachers are already in short supply, so the promise to sack more of them will simply exacerbate the problem. Where does Nicky Morgan imagine that new teachers and heads will come from if up against threats like this? We have a generation of stressed pupils, with teachers working 60-hour weeks, too little of which is spent doing work which is of relevance to pupils. Accountability is the over-arching issue, and it is currently way out of hand. We are testing children within an inch of their lives and the vibrancy and love of learning that should be at the centre of the curriculum is all but lost.
‘More testing, more free schools, more forced academies and more pressure – all with less money in education and less money in the other services that support children. This is not the strategy that will give all children in this country excellent outcomes. There are alternative school improvement strategies which are better value for money and which make possible better outcomes for children. These strategies would also stem the tide of teachers fleeing the profession. It is high time that the government engages with the profession and with the evidence from the last 40 years about what improves educational outcomes.
‘Trade unions are an important part of the fabric of this country. Working people fought long and hard for the right to be represented fairly and to challenge injustice in the workplace. To try and legislate to take that voice away is shameful and one which will be challenged.’
Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey said: ‘Given the profound challenges facing this nation, it is staggering that a priority for this government is not to create decent jobs and offer a helping hand to insecure workers but to attack trade unions.
‘Seven million UK workers and their families turn to their unions for help. Our members are the people who clean our streets, care for our kids, work in our shops – they are not the cause of this country’s broken economy and deserve far better than the hostility directed at them by this government.
‘Unite has said repeatedly that the way to increase turnouts in strike ballots is not to make it harder for people to exercise fundamental rights, but to modernise voting. This can be easily achieved through consensus and discussion, and without the division and fear that the government’s approach prefers. We urge this government to think again. People will not be fooled by claims to be the party of working people, if freedoms and democracy are swept away in a tide of repressive laws and showy PR.’
Jon Skewes, Director for Policy, Employment Relations and Communications at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: ‘The problem is that if Members of Parliament decide that industrial action is illegitimate if it fails to win the support of at least 40 per cent of all eligible voters, they will call their own legitimacy into question.
‘If the government is genuinely concerned about the level of turnout in these ballots, one positive, constructive step it could take would be to modernise the rules so that, for example, those taking part can vote online. Currently those taking part can only vote by post. Make it easier for people to participate and you will help increase turnout and in turn make any result more representative of the union’s membership.’
What is clear is that these reformist and Stalinist union leaders have no intention of taking serious action. Instead they urge the government to ‘think again’. They must be removed and replaced with a revolutionary leadership that will mobilise workers for a general strike to bring down the Tories and go forward to a workers government and socialism.
Only the Workers Revolutionary Party and Young Socialists are building that leadership. Join today!