In this guest blog, Kevan Nelson gives a scorching analysis of the existential threat to the trade union movement and the working class more widely posed by the Trade Union Bill:
In 1935, at the time Comintern leader Georgi Dimitrov described Fascism as ‘a most ferocious attack by capital on the mass of the working people,’ the Nazi regime in Germany had made trade unions illegal and banned strikes.
Similarly, in Chile, Pinochet and his Generals wasted no time in outlawing trade unions as an early measure in their right wing economic experiment which gave birth to today’s neo liberal orthodoxy. A point well made with reference to the Conservative Government’s Trade Union Bill by Philip Jennings of the global union federation UNI “I recently met the Chilean labour minister who told me that, under its own labour reforms, Chile will be removing striker replacement rules from the statute book because they were an “unfortunate legacy” of Pinochet,” Jennings said. “Why is the Conservative Party intent on following the example of a man like Pinochet?”
Ironically, it took David Davis, a senior Tory MP, to draw parallels with Franco’s fascist regime in Spain and state in Parliament during the second reading debate, whilst not opposing the main thrust of the proposed legislation, “I particularly am offended by the idea that a picket organiser needs to give his name to the police. This to me is a serious restriction of freedom of association.”
The wide ranging proposals of the Trade Union Bill have been outlined in detail in an excellent TUC briefing. In their totality the proposals are an industrial and political hurricane which threatens to obliterate the organisational sustainability of unions and the financial viability of the Labour Party. It is far from the ‘shabby, vicious, little Bill’ described by some. Nor is it a ‘step too far.’ The actual step too far was the 1980 Employment Act with its bans on secondary action and picketing restrictions. And the argument that the Bill is ‘a solution to yesterday’s problem’ should be avoided. If high levels of industrial action and worker militancy were a so called problem in the 70’s and 80’s, such levels of mobilisation today would be an antidote to years of de-unionisation, falling wages and rising job insecurity. We need more not less industrial resistance.
The main thrust of the attack is on public service trade unionism. More than 3 out of 5 trade unionists are employed in the public sector yet it constitutes only 17% of the overall UK workforce (down from 22% since 2010). The Government agenda is to outlaw large scale and protracted national strikes (such as those in recent years about job losses, pensions, Pay and teacher workloads) and choke off union subscription income by abolishing the payroll deduction of union subscriptions – thus individualising union membership via Direct Debit, third partying trade unions from the employment relationship and removing a (minor) barrier to de-recognition. Also, the opt-in requirement for political funds will lead to a rapid withering of irreplaceable (other than via state funding) union financial support for the Labour party.
The recent Trade Union Congress took a united stand against the Bill. Very impressive opposition has been put up by Labour, SNP and Green MP’s during Parliamentary debates to date. But the discipline of Tory MP’s, glued together by class hatred, held firm and will continue to do so unless an unprecedented mass campaign can be generated in the coming months. We have the glorious precedent of the defeat of the 1971 Industrial Relations Act. Elsewhere in the world we have mass resistance to attacks on workers’ rights in France and India.
Resistance to the Bill can and must be built starting with the TUC national demonstration on 4 October followed by the Lobby of Parliament and national rally in London on 2 November. The stakes could not be higher. The enactment of the Bill will pave the way for an anti union offensive in public services on a par with the Tories’ strategic destruction of the coal mining, docks, shipbuilding and steel industries in the 1980’s.