Trade union members take part in a mass lobby of Parliament against the Trade Union Bill. Photo: Jess Hurd / reportdigital.co.uk
Trade Union Bill: Stand up for union rights
This week saw the latest skirmish in the battle against the Trade Union Bill.
Through cross-party working in Parliament and campaigning hard across the country, we have forced the Government into important concessions in a number of areas; from check-off and facility time, to political funds and electronic balloting.
Throughout the process, the Labour Party has worked closely together with the TUC and the wider union movement. We have succeeded in neutralising the worst elements of it. But let me be clear. This remains a bad Bill. We will go on opposing it and when we next form a Government, we will scrap it.
We all know how Conservative politicians have demonised trade unions in order to justify these attacks. They characterise the movement as a load of union barons and bully-boys, intent on fighting their boss and causing untold disruption to the wider economy.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Levels of industrial action are at historic lows. The number of days lost to strike action is down 90% on the 1980s and the average union member goes on strike once every 15 years. Strikes are a last resort; something that is only used when negotiations fail. As such, this Bill is totally unnecessary. It is tilting at windmills.
Union reps do vital work in organisations up and down the country. Take steel, where Community, Unite and the GMB have been fighting hard to secure a future for this vital foundation industry. The contrast between the steel unions and the Government here is instructive. While the unions and Labour were warning for months of a looming crisis, the Government sat on their hands. While the General Secretary of Community and the MP for Port Talbot went to Mumbai for the crunch talks on the future of the industry, the Business Secretary jetted off to Australia. Even Anna Soubry one of his Ministers who is helping to push through this Bill said that the steel unions ‘have been outstanding’ throughout the process.
Unions are the largest voluntary organisations in the country; with 6.4 million members, there are 43 trade union members for every member of the Conservative Party.
And despite the smears and misinformation spread about the movement, union representatives are still more trusted than business leaders and twice as trusted as us politicians!
The Government claim that they want to move away from what they call a high welfare economy, and build a high pay, high skill and high productivity economy. Trade unions can play a vital role here. Through boosting the bargaining power of working people, they can help drive up pay and reduce inequality. This is not just good in itself; it can help increase demand and growth in our economy and reduce the need for spending on in-work welfare to mitigate poverty pay. Union Learning Reps play a vital role in supporting training and skills utilisation in workplaces across the country. And some of our most productive and successful workplaces – from our world-leading automotive producers to our innovative aerospace firms – are highly unionised.
Sadly, instead of working with trade unions, our deeply ideological Government still see them as ‘the enemy within’. In Cameron, Osborne, Javid and Johnson, we have a generation whose politics was framed by Thatcher’s battle with the unions. They seem to be intent on finishing what she started.
There is a better way. We need a Government that works in partnership with unions and employers, with skills providers and with our regions, to boost growth. We need to build an economy that works for working people; one which delivers strong, sustainable and shared growth.
Trade unions exist to stand up for working people. And as long as they are under attack by this Government, we should all continue to stand up for the rights of trade unions.