The first Conservative government for 18 years will introduce a Bill to beef up existing anti-trade union laws in the UK.
Whilst the proposed restrictions on strike action had been well signalled in advance, the inclusion of a change to union political funds was unexpected.
The Tories are demanding a 50% turnout threshold in a ballot and an additional 40% yes vote requirement in “core public services” (health, education, transport and fire services), They hope to make it impossible for unions to organise lawful strikes.
There will be new time limitations on ballot mandates which will allow employers and courts to interfere with and delay legitimate industrial disputes even more than they do already.
Further proposals will allow bosses to bus in agency workers to cover the jobs of strikers during official action. There will be criminal sanctions on picketing the workplace to prevent the use of scab labour.
The attack on the PCS (the main civil service trade union) by the last government put a cap on the proportion of the civil service pay bill that could be spent on trade union facility time, restricted the number of union reps given full-time release and banned paid time off for trade union activities.
Now the government propose to extend those restrictions across local government and into the private sector.
There are also plans to change how unions collect their membership fees — both through individual payments and through check-off arrangements — to make it difficult for unions to operate effectively.
These attacks together with the massive cuts in welfare benefits have one aim — a cheap workforce, with no right to withdraw their labour, no rights to a decent welfare safety, with few employment rights and even patchier trade union organisation.
Workers in unionised workplaces enjoy better terms and conditions not only because of the right to strike but also because trained trade union reps are active in the workplace negotiating, representing and promoting the wellbeing of the workforce. The solution from the bosses’ perspective is to undermine union organisation per se.
It’s all about saving money. Not satisfied that we live in a period when inequality in power and wealth is worse than it has been for over a hundred years, the bosses want to up the ante.
Their political wing, the Tory Party, also wants to stop the funding to their only viable electoral opposition — the Labour Party. The proposal to force political levy payers in affiliated trade unions to opt in rather than opt out undermines organised workers collective political voice.
The same rule was in force between 1926-1946 and had drastic results. It is an ideological attack on the Labour-union link but it is also a very practical attack on a significant source of funding for Labour .
The response of the labour movement to these attacks must be to fight back — industrially and politically.
There is no place for compromise — whether it be on the principle of trade union freedoms or accepting that state funding of political parties is the way forward.