Last week the Labour Party set up a petition against the Trade Union Bill which gathered 400,000 signatures in just a few days.
There is a mood to fight the Trade Union Bill, which should be mobilised. Campaigners with the London Right to Strike group meet today (Tuesday 22 September) to plan their next protest and street stalls. We encourage activists around the country to do the same.
On Saturday 3 October, Right to Strike will hold an open steering committee meeting in Manchester, we invite all branches who have affiliated to the campaign to come but the meeting will also be open to all, regardless of if your branch has affiliated.
On Sunday 4 October, Right to Strike will have a bloc on the demonstration at Tory Party conference. We will assemble from 12 pm on the corner of Booth Street and Oxford Road, next to the Royal Northern College of Music.
Please join us with your union banners and encourage others from your union branch to march with us.
Lessons from Australia
For the current campaign against the Tories' trade union Bill there are lessons to be learned from the Australian unions' campaign against the anti-union legislation of John Howard's Liberal government in Australia.
Howard introduced two new laws from 2005. WorkChoices aimed gradually to shift the entire Australian workforce from regulation by union-negotiated and legally-enforceable "awards", which have dominated Australian industrial relations for over a hundred years, to individual contracts. It was more drastic, in long-term implications, than anything Margaret Thatcher pushed through in Britain.
The Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act set up a special industrial police, the ABCC, for the construction industry, and made trade unionists liable to to fines or jail for such things as insisting on a right to silence when summoned to be questioned by the ABCC about their union comrades' activities.
Australia's unions launched a big and well-organised campaign against the laws. There were stickers and posters everywhere, meetings, and large demonstrations on working days.
That union campaign was probably decisive in defeating the Liberals at the November 2007 federal election and returning a Labor government.
The unions also formulated a good, radical set of demands which they said they'd fight to get the Labor government to implement.
But then things went bad. Once Labor was elected, the union leaders went quiet on their demands. The unions have about 50% of the vote in every state conference of the Australian Labor Party, and thus about a 50% say in the federal conference; but even the left unions have did nothing to use that vote to push the demands the unions developed in 2006-7.
So Labor repealed WorkChoices and the BCII Act, and since then even right-wing Liberals plead that they have no intention of restoring WorkChoices.
Union agreements remain central to industrial relations. But strikes or industrial action remain unlawful in Australia at all times unless the Fair Work Commission authorises a union to ballot over the terms of a new agreement, after the previous agreement has expired, and when the union has been "genuinely trying to reach agreement".
Many other restrictions on unions survive from Howard's legislation.
So, legislation can be defeated. A strong campaign against legislation can not only defeat it but bring down the government.
But unless the unions use their political clout to ensure a political alternative, their campaign victory will be only a quarter-victory.