THE publication of the newly proposed Tory strike-ban laws have brought a response from all trade unions.
Some union leaders call for action but the leaders of the major trade unions are keeping quiet about what has to be done. Commenting on the Bill, Jon Skewes Director for Policy, Employment Relations and Communications at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: ‘This is a misguided and hypocritical move by the government.
‘These proposals attempt to gag hard-working employees like midwives from voicing opposition to restrictions to their pay and working conditions. This is a fundamental attack on civil liberties and attempts to criminalise peaceful protest.
‘Industrial action is a symptom of poor employment relations not the cause. The government should concentrate on working with trade unions to improve working conditions and allowing frontline workers a voice. Only yesterday the Prime Minister said he wanted to close the gender pay gap, and last week the Chancellor spoke about Britain needing a pay rise and improving productivity.
‘The gender pay gap is smaller and pay rates and productivity are higher in unionised workplaces. Unions are part of the solution, not part of the problem. Some politicians need to drop the outdated mind-set that unions are pantomime villains. They should work with us on a future strategy for pay, productivity and living standards for working people rather than wasting time trying to restrict industrial action that is already at historically low levels.
‘Members of the Royal College of Midwives have balloted once in England and once in Northern Ireland in 134 years. Midwives took the decision to take industrial action because government and employers failed to honour the recommendation from the independent pay review body to give NHS staff a 1 per cent pay rise.
‘Had the government and employers continued to honour the recommendations of the independent process there would not have been a problem. We repeatedly asked to meet with the government to negotiate and industrial action was a last resort for midwives. The government should not go down this road. We are traditionally a moderate union and during our industrial action we worked hard to maintain safety.
‘These proposals, particularly around agency workers and time limits on ballots, will push us to take stronger positions. This is an unprovoked attack from a government wanting to relive the past. The RCM want to look to the future and improve working conditions and productivity. We are calling on the government to drop this bill and work with trade unions, not against us.’
Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, has roundly condemned the Conservative government’s plans to make it harder for trade unions to take lawful industrial action. He said: ‘As a trade union representing ordinary, decent, hard-working men and women doing a safety-critical job to ensure passengers get the first class public transport they deserve, we have serious fears over what this government is proposing.’
He alleged: ‘Mike Brown, managing director of London Underground; LU chief operating officer Steve Griffiths; London Mayor Boris Johnson; and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin have all lied by claiming the current dispute with ASLEF over the Night Tube is political. It’s not political, it’s industrial. And started, as an industrial dispute, over terms and conditions,which LU are trying to change, long before the general election.
‘I think it’s shameful that this Tory government is coming after the one group of people – the trade unions – who are able to stand up for ordinary working people as well as the poor and the weak, the oppressed and the dispossessed. They talk about essential services. But all services are essential. 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 – tax cuts for the bankers and the brokers who brought Britain to the brink, for a very few at the top of the pile, and a life on zero-hours contracts and the minimum wage for the rest of us.
‘There is you notice, no new law to deal with rogue employers who break agreements.
‘It is ironic that this government, in the year we celebrate the civil rights brought in by the sealing of Magna Carta 900 years ago, is determined to bring in a law which strikes at the democratic heart of this country. Because it is the right of every worker to withdraw his or her labour. We are not slaves and this is not a slave state. No man or woman should be forced to work by the threats of a bad employer or a bad government.’
Commenting on the Trade Union Bill, Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said: ‘The provisions of the Bill come as no surprise. The deep hatred of the government for those who fight for the rights of working people and stand up for fairness and equality is writ large in the Bill. It is not only the provisions of the Trade Union Bill which should be a cause for deep concern but what the Bill represents.
‘This Bill follows hot on the heels of the Lobbying Act, introduced shortly before the election, to restrict opposition and introduce state supervision of trade union membership. 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 breathtaking powers to government further to trample the rights of individuals. 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.’
Unite issued a statement in which ‘Ministers were urged to rethink the restrictive proposals in the Trade Union bill that threaten to cast unions as “the enemy within”.’ Unite said the best way to increase voting in industrial action ballots was to develop secure workplace balloting and introduce online voting, as the Conservatives were doing to select their candidate for next year’s London mayoral elections.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: ‘Today the government has slammed the door of David Cameron’s “One Nation” Britain in the face of millions of trade unionists. These measures aim to deny working people a voice and to tilt power still further towards the rich and big business, who funded the Tory re-election campaign. Tory claims to be the “workers’ party” can be seen fully for the fraud that they were.
‘I appeal to the government to think again. Do not go back to the days of trade unions being “the enemy within”. If the government is truly concerned about increasing participation in strike votes, then why not work with us to develop secure workplace balloting and introduce online voting, just as the Tories are doing with their London mayoral selection. I say to the prime minister, if it is good enough for your party then surely it is good enough for Britain’s workers? And the party funding proposals are a cynical and partisan attempt to make sure that only the Tories have the cash to fight future elections. Everyone concerned with our democracy should unite to oppose them.’
Commenting on the publication of the Trade Union Bill, Unison General Secretary Dave 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.
‘These spiteful proposals will deny millions of ordinary workers a voice at work. Strikes are rare and the decision to lose a day’s pay is never an easy one – especially for public sector workers who have suffered many years of pay restraint. When unions win a pay rise or safer working conditions for their members everyone in the workplace gets to benefit. Democracy won’t be enhanced by vindictively raising thresholds but by modernising balloting and allowing workers to vote from their phones and tablets.’
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said; ‘We know that these brutal new anti-union laws are specifically targeted at our members in the transport sector who have shown in recent months that they have the guts to stand up and fight for jobs, pay, services and safety. The response of this government mirrors the actions of hard-right regimes throughout history – shackle the unions, criminalise their members and use a raft of new laws to try and bankrupt workers’ organisations.
‘It is not lost on us that this legislation has been tabled just a few days before we celebrate the Tolpuddle Martyrs at their annual festival – a group of Dorset farm labourers criminalised and exiled for daring to organise a union. The trade union movement will unite to fight this brutal assault on the most basic of human rights and that campaign will be taken into the communities who stand to lose access to safe and reliable services as this noose of the anti-union laws is twisted round our necks.’
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘This Bill is an unnecessary attack on workers’ rights and civil liberties that will shift the balance of power in the workplace. Getting a pay rise or defending terms and conditions will become far harder for working people. Even when ballots meet the government’s new thresholds, employers will soon be able to break strikes by bringing in agency workers. If ministers were really interested in improving workplace democracy they would commit to online balloting. However, they would rather silence protests against their cuts to children’s centres, libraries and social care services.
‘These new restrictions on facility time will make it more much difficult for trade unions to solve problems at work before they escalate into disputes. Making it a criminal offence for seven people to be on a picket line is a waste of police time and not something you would expect in a country with a proud tradition of liberty.’
Commenting on the government’s trade union bill, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘It is rank hypocrisy to introduce arbitrary restrictions on union ballots that will not apply to MPs, MEPs, councillors and police commissioners, and they will have no legitimacy when they scrape through parliament on a wafer thin majority.
‘We have repeatedly asked ministers to work with us to make it easier for people to vote in workplaces and using technology, and they have refused. This is not an attack on trade unions, it is an attack on society as a whole, as we know that weaker unions mean greater inequality.’
Requiring union members to opt in to political fund is a completely one sided approach aimed at bankrupting Labour as there is no proposal for companies to ballot shareholders on donations to the Tory Party says GMB.
GMB rebutted the claim by Nick Bowles MP, the Conservative Employment Minister, on the Today programme, that all individuals involved in donations to the Tory Party give their explicit consent for donations to be made. He was being interviewed on the Trade Union Bill published on 15th July 2015.
Paul Kenny, GMB General Secretary, alleged, ‘This is a blatant political attack on anyone who might be opposed to Tory policies and to dress it up as anything else is hypocrisy worthy of a Joseph Goebbels misinformation award. The top one hundred companies that donated to the Tory Party between them gave £50.8m with no consent from individual shareholders. There is no requirement for the directors to ask individual shareholders much less any requirement for shareholders to opt in. So Nick Bowles claim that explicit consent is given by both directors and shareholders is plainly not the case.
‘The proposal for union members to have to opt into the political fund is a completely one sided approach to party funding. Unlike joint stock companies, trades unions are the only organisations in the UK not allowed to spend their general funds to support political parties. Instead they have been required to set up political funds for that purpose. This has been the case since the early part of the last century.
‘Since the 1980s trades unions are also required by law hold a postal ballot of individual members every ten years on the issue. GMB members have on four occasions voted overwhelmingly to retain a political fund since then – the latest vote being in 2014. There is no equivalent proposal from the Tory government to require companies to ballot shareholders or to place a cap on donations from wealthy people when funding the Tory Party.
‘Conservatives will be able to stuff their coffers with swag money from hedge fund tax bandits and then have the cheek to lecture trade union members about accountability. The aim is clearly designed to seriously damage the Labour Party. The Tory Party High Command intend to make the Labour Party bankrupt by cutting off the main source of funding that they have relied on since the 1930s.
‘It is also aimed at undermining political campaigning by unions on behalf of their members and communities. It is intended to reduce the ability of trade unions to provide funding, including donations to political parties and campaigns. This is the second time that the Tories have aimed to bankrupt the Labour Party. They did it before in 1928. The Tory class warriors want to do it again nearly 90 years later.’
The GMB summarised: ‘The Bill introduces 50% turnout ballot threshold in a strike ballot. It requires 40% support to take industrial action from all members eligible to vote in health, education, fire, transport, water, security and energy sectors including border force and nuclear commissioning. It requires unions to give 14 days notice for strike action. It lifts the current ban on using agency workers to do the jobs of those on strike. It requires an opt-in for trade union political funds.’
Dave Wiltshire the secretary of the All Trades Unions Alliance told News Line.‘The issue is very easy to understand. The Tories are banning the right to strike in order to drive us back to the 19th century as far as living standards and basic rights are concerned. There is only one way to reply to them and that is by removing the TUC leaders who are refusing to fight and replacing them with a revolutionary leadership that will call and prosecute a general strike to remove the Tory government and bring in a workers government that will go forward to socialism!’