On 6 August the government confirmed that 3.8 million public sector workers will lose the right to have their trade union subscriptions automatically deducted from their pay packet.
Ending “check-off”, already applied to parts of the civil service, is a calculated move by the government to put unions in a financially precarious position. Whilst it may be better in the long run for unions to have their dues-collecting system far from the reach of government interference, the process of transferring workers to direct debit is long and unions may suffer a dip in income in that process.
This is only the latest in the attacks to be unveiled in the Trade Union Bill. The bill will introduce a requirement of 50% turn-out in all strike ballots; and a requirement that 40% of all members (not just those that vote) vote yes in strike ballots in “key industries” which includes health, transport, education and power. These are thresholds that the government, and many MPs, don't reach, even with all the publicity of a general election!
But there is more. The bill lifts the ban on the use of agency workers to replace strikers; it makes breaches of picketing laws criminal rather than civil offences; imposes ridiculous rules about picket line supervisors; and requires all union political funds (not just for Labour affiliated unions) to be opt-in rather than opt-out.
So far the trade union movement has made a half-hearted top down, stab at opposing the bill. A large London meeting in July hosted by the Campaign for Trade Union Freedoms, amongst others, attracted people who were keen to fight, but was largely dominated by trade union officials.
The TUC has been releasing articles, petitions and graphics and has made a dedicated section of its website for the campaign.
It has also called a demonstration at Tory Party conference on 4 October which is partially about the Trade Union Bill, and a lobby of Parliament about the bill on 2 November.
But a weekday lobby of Parliament by trade union officials is not going to stop the bill. Localised action, that embarrasses MPs, raises public awareness and involves members will stand a chance. That sort of activity will also build confidence and organisation amongst rank and file trade union members, to reinvigorate our movement and better enable us to beat the bosses at work and defy the bill if it is passed.
Mobilising groups have been set up by trade union branches in London, Liverpool, and Sheffield so far.
Trade union branches and trades councils should do the same elsewhere, with the aim of co-ordinating local activity. In London we organised a successful protest outside Iain Duncan Smith's constituency office — taking a “high court judge” to give him an injunction against his election with only 31% of the electorate!
On Wednesday 9 September we will be doing the same for Sajid Javid. As the sponsor of the bill we feel he has some questions to answer!
Even without the bill we don't currently have the right to strike in the UK. We must raise the demand for real democracy in strike ballots — allowing us to run workplace ballots rather than postal ballots. We must demand the right to strike over political issues, as the Tories' attacks are political; to strike in solidarity with other workers; and to picket workplaces effectively.