Another Tory U-Turn

by Daphne Liddle

THE TORIES have been forced again to make concessions on the anti-Trade Union Bill that had even former Tory Home Secretary David Davis comparing some of the clauses to laws passed by fascist Franco in Spain and threatening to vote against the Bill at its third reading unless it was changed.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid on Wednesday announced a big climb-down on some of their proposals to restrict picketing and protest.

The Government has now dropped its proposal to force unions to publish a protest and picketing plan 14 days in advance. This would have made unions spell out in great detail how they planned to campaign during a strike.

It would have given employers and the police two weeks’ notice of everything the union planned to do — where and when pickets would be held, how many would attend, even whether megaphones would be used.

And it would have made unions declare online how they would campaign, including what they were intending to post on Facebook and Twitter. And if they did not comply unions would have been liable for fines of up to £20,000.

The Government decided not to go ahead with proposals to create new criminal offences around picketing or to make every picketer wear an armband or give their name to the police.

But picket organisers will still have to wear an armband and give their name and address to the police. And they’ll still have to carry a standard letter from the union authorising the picket. The threat of victimisation will hang over many trade union activists.

The Bill will revoke a law dating from 1973 that bars employers from employing agency staff to replace striking workers. And with the unemployed facing total benefit sanctions if they do not comply with an order to take such an agency job, the pressure to scab will be enormous.

The Bill will also insist that strike action must be supported by at least 40 per cent of all those eligible to vote — a standard that would have denied most Tory MPs their seats.

It will abolish trade union facility time and the check-off system where workers can opt to have their union dues deducted from their wages and paid straight to the union.

Nearly 3,000 trade unionists travelled from all over Britain to Westminster on Monday for a giant rally in Central Hall and to lobby their MPs just across the road in Parliament to oppose the Trade Union Bill. Meanwhile similar rallies happened major towns throughout the country.

Red Clydeside showed its colours once more last week when West Dunbartonshire Council agreed to fight the controversial Trade Union Bill all the way — including breaking the law if it comes into force.

Labour councillor Gail Casey put forward a motion at the full council meeting on Wednesday calling on the council to reject the Bill’s “attack on democracy and attack on our right to manage our own affairs”

She said: “This is an ideological attack on workers and their right to be respected at work. This is the latest vindictive act in the Tory class war and if they want a class war we will give them one.”

Many trade unionists have also pledged to break the law if this Bill is passed, including Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union and Mark Serwotka of the civil service union PCS.

At a recent meeting against the Bill, leading barrister John Hendy QC said the bill was “legally illiterate” as it would break numerous international conventions and laws. “It is legally illiterate for them to be doing what they are doing,” he said.

“And think of the irony. Here is a government breaking the law while telling the unions that they have got to abide by it. That is the irony.”

The Government has been forced into five retreats recently: over a contract to help Saudi Arabia lock up its prisoners, over bombing Syria, over junior doctors’ pay, over cutting tax credits and now over curbing trade unions.

It shows the effect of an opposition that actually opposes and the rise in morale this has brought to the working class.

There is a long way to go to undo the harm the Tories are trying to do but they are now on the back foot. Campaigning to stop the trade union Bill must be high on our list and the fight will not be restricted to Parliament but will include to every workplace in the country.