Thursday, 10 September 2015



by Richie Venton, SSP national trade union organiser 

We submit these comments on the Trade Union Bill and associated 'consultations' in the full knowledge that the Tory regime has little or no intention of heeding the submissions of the trade union movement and its political allies, in their pursuit of crushing the power and influence of working people. 
These pretend-consultations are an exercise in deceit; camouflage for a government with no popular majority mandate to impose the most repressive anti-worker legislation for several decades, certainly since the reviled days of Margaret Thatcher, perhaps even since the notorious 1901 Taff Vale Act. 

Taken separately and together, the measures in the Bill - and supplementary legislation being proposed without having to pass primary legislation - should exclude the UK from being signatories to the ILO, European Human Rights and other declarations of democracy.

As the Cameron government is fully aware - and doubtless proud of - the existing tranche of anti-union laws initiated by their 1980s predecessors, already make the UK the most repressive, in terms of workplace rights, of any western state. Now you threaten to add to the levels of dictatorship by capital suffered by the working people who create society's wealth and frontline services.

The proposed threshold of a 50% turnout in any union ballot is an effrontery to democracy, coming from a Business Secretary who only won 38% of the vote in his seat; a parliament with 331 MPs elected by a minority.
The further high hurdle of 40% of all eligible voters in what has now been redefined as "important public services" - plus workers who are "ancillary" to them - flies in the face of the ILO rulings that "only the votes cast should count".  
The two hurdles combined are especially offensive when, if applied to the recent Westminster elections, would have barred 270 Tory MPs and 50% of the Tory Cabinet from office.
The only countries who apply such multiple obstacles to a simple, democratic vote by majority in the unions are Bulgaria and Romania. Are those now the models to be emulated?   

Instead of throwing up such outrageous obstacles to democratic decision-making, laws should be drafted to facilitate workplace union meetings - during working hours - followed by votes, and safe, secure methods of online voting. Maximizing participation by allowing the unions to meet, debate and function would be true progress. The Trade Union Bill is its mirror opposite. It's a charter for ballot rigging.

Stipulations for ballot forms giving "reasonably clear details of the matters in issue in the trade dispute"; "the types of industrial action"; and "the periods within which action is expected" are all designed to earn fortunes for company lawyers who will crawl all over the ballot process to subvert union members' decisions; to clog up the courts with challenges to majority votes; and to give employers an even greater monopoly of power, by giving them time to prepare counter-measures to undermine the impact of workers exercising their human, democratic right to withhold their labour.

Having to give not just 7, but now 14 days' notice of action likewise hands employers the power to neuter any actions by employees, even when they've overcome the outrageous thresholds imposed on them.
In that context, the proposals to repeal the ban on use of Agency workers as replacement labour during industrial action are particularly pernicious. This ban has been in operation since 1973 - including right throughout the Thatcher days! 
It is designed to dragoon some of the most vulnerable workers - those whose numbers have ballooned during the Coalition and now Tory governments - and put a legal gun to their head with the 'choice' of 'scab or be sacked'. All to undermine wages and conditions, and add to the mass precariousness of work in 'modern' Britain.

Tory government proposals on picketing are measures a police state wouldn't be ashamed of. They aim to make criminals of working people with the courage of their convictions and a readiness to defend their communities and work colleagues. 
Your 'Consultation on Intimidation of Non-Striking Workers' is a grotesque exercise in spin and loaded language. The Carr Inquiry was set up in 2014 to dredge up any evidence of picket line intimidation to justify such criminalization. It failed; no evidence was found!

Now the conversion of Codes of Conduct into criminal law on limits of six to a picket line, plus insistence on Picket Supervisers with ID, letters to give the police "or any other person who reasonably asks", and similar heavy-handed regulations have nothing to do with law, order or social justice, everything to do with trampling on civil and human rights. 

Bogus consultation on a new criminal offense of "intimidation on picket lines", and ludicrous demands for details of what loudspeakers, banners or props are to be used on future protests, are equally dangerous attacks on democracy. 
And to cap it all, the Orwellian demand for 14 days' notice of use of social media and "what blogs and websites will set out", are all too similar to the internationally condemned repressive measures of the likes of regimes in China, Russia or Middle East autocracies.

New draconian powers for the Trade Union Certification Officer to interfere in the internal affairs and decisions of unions, including the power to order seizure of union documents and membership lists, and interrogate union officers, are police measures that not even Thatcher dared to try. And with the added sick joke of this dictatorial exercise being funded from special levies on... the unions!

Any state claiming to be modern, or democratic, should have the right to be in a union, and the right of that union to freely function on behalf of its members, inscribed in a written constitution. The attacks on union facility time and other functioning, including the checkoff system of collecting union subs, are anathema to democracy. 

The SSP is the socialist contingent of Scotland's trade union movement. We have a vision of a democracy that is real and concrete, with fully functioning, free trade unions; full recognition and negotiating rights for unions in any workplace, regardless of size, where workers join unions; restoration of collective bargaining across the board; the constitutional right to strike after a simple majority vote at union meetings (supplemented by secure online voting measures); the right to show solidarity with fellow workers; the right to strike against political measures that affect workers' lives; freedom of speech without victimization; the right to peaceful protest and picketing; and a whole package of measures to introduce workplace democracy instead of the rule of fear encouraged by this and previous anti-working class governments.

The SSP unashamedly calls not only for outright opposition to your Trade Union Bill and associated regulations, but for the repeal of all existing anti-union laws.

To that end we will continue to demand devolution of employment legislation - as well as the minimum wage - to the Scottish parliament. That would be a democratic advance on parliamentary dictatorship over Scotland by a Tory government that only won the support of 10% of the Scottish registered electorate.

We have no belief that a Tory party and Tory MPs with absolutely no understanding of the daily lives and struggles to survive endured by millions of people have any ability or intention of listening to pleas for mercy.
So this submission is in part more of a public notice that we will do all in our powers as trade unionists and community activists to obstruct, defy and defeat any of the vicious, repressive measures proposed by the Trade Union Bill and its subsidiary regulations.

The government has no mandate. There is not a shred of evidence that any of these laws are necessary. The past 30 years of brutal repression of workers' rights in Britain have been instrumental in creating one shocking fact: GDP has doubled in the past 30 years, and the number of people living below the breadline in that same time-span has likewise doubled.

Just as the arrogance of Tory mis-rule stirred up the mass politicization of the Scottish people during and since the Referendum, so too we are confident your attacks on the trade union movement and working people will trigger resistance that will leave the architects of these Tory attacks to rue the day they tried to wipe out workers' rights.

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