UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis has called on the labour movement to organise a ‘popular uprising’ against the Trade Union Bill.
He delivered his call to arms in a speech at a public meeting on Wednesday night, organised by the Institute for Employment Rights.
Introducing himself as ‘speaking on behalf of teaching assistants, cleaners, environmental health officers, nurses, care workers, hospital clerks and ambulance workers’, Prentis explained that those were ‘just a few of the workers whose commitment to helping people and caring for their fellow citizens must scare this government’.
He asked: ‘Why else would they (the Tories) treat their trade unions as dangerous bodies more akin to a threat to national security?’ Prentis emphasised that these ‘dangerous’ workers included English NHS staff who had taken ‘their first one-day strike on pay in 30 years last year after five years of pay restraint’ – but only after they had ‘arranged life-and-limb cover so no patient was at risk and all urgent 999 calls were answered’.
The meeting was the first large-scale labour movement response to the Bill, which the government is intending to rush through by early autumn, after a brief consultation over the summer holiday. It will create enormous blocks on unions being able to organise industrial action – with plans even being mooted by the government to order unions to set out their social media tactics for industrial action beforehand.
The government’s plans also include changing the law so that employers can use agency staff to strike break. This would, said Prentis, ‘raise the temperature in disputes, risk good will for already stretched staff and, most of all, provide a riskier and less safe environment for patients, school kids and the elderly’.
He added: ‘Employers and agencies don’t want it and every other country has a ban on agency strike breakers.’ Mocking plans to subject picketing to myriad new rules, he observed that, ‘if you have seen our picket lines, they are fun and friendly – with plenty of cake’. The Bill ‘breaks all sense of natural justice by tying their (members’) trade union in red tape to make it virtually impossible to go on strike ever again.
‘The Bill will stick in their throat as unjust. ‘We must make the popular uprising against it, in defence of the right to strike,’ urged Prentis. Earlier, Prentis had told the national executive council (NEC) in London that government plans to restrict trade union rights are ‘a strikebreaker’s charter’ which would undermine the basic civil rights of working people.
Prentis said: ‘Our salvation is our own strength. We can’t wait around for a change of government.’
The NEC agreed to put forward three motions to the TUC on the topics of the budget and austerity, housing and English devolution.
Despite his call for a popular uprising, Prentis neglected to demand that the forthcoming TUC Conference call a general strike to bring down the Tories and put an end to all plans to bring in anti-union laws.
• Yesterday, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) announced its endorsement of Jeremy Corbyn MP to be the next leader of the Labour Party. CWU General Secretary Dave Ward, said: ‘There are no quick fixes for the Labour Party, but there are some easy decisions and choosing Jeremy as its leader should be one of them.
‘We think that it is time for a change for Labour. The grip of the Blairites and individuals like Peter Mandelson must now be loosened once and for all. There is a virus within the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn is the antidote.’