It’s been all about Parliament again this week, as thousands of trade union members turned up in Westminster for a rally against the Trade Union Bill, and then headed to Parliament to meet their MPs.
I want to start by saying a huge thank you to every one of the unionstogether campaigners who came down to London on Monday.
Lots of you travelled for hours to be there, and the massive turnout meant there were long queues to get into the House of Commons. To those of you who waited to see your MP - thank you. I know not everyone was able to meet their Member of Parliament (and we all know there was a distinctly blue hue to the no-shows), but just being there is important and makes a statement to our representatives that we stand strong against this attack on our rights and freedoms.
Let’s be honest - we’re going to struggle to beat this Bill in the Commons next week. The Tories have a built-in majority, and the Tory whips are going to be twisting arms with gusto. But win or lose, we have a moral obligation to make a stand against this Bill - now, and in the Courts if it becomes law.
This Bill is an unprecedented attack on our rights.
The right to withdraw our labour is a fundamental human right. To be able, in a last resort, to strike (forgoing pay, don’t forget) for better pay, fairer conditions and a safe working environment is what differentiates work from slavery. This Bill claims to be about making strike action more democratic. Don’t be fooled - if the Government really wanted to increase participation in strike ballots, they’d be changing the law to allow online voting in union ballots. This Bill is about making it as hard as possible for working people to strike legally. And alongside it, they are changing the rules so that if strike action is voted for, the employer can simply employ agency workers to break the strike, drastically reducing the impact of the action.
Don’t just take my word for it. The right to strike is enshrined in international law, protected by the United Nations.
But that’s not the only right that’s under attack in this Bill. They’ve also got it in for the Freedom of Association as well. The Freedom of Association is “the right to join or leave groups of a person's own choosing, and for the group to take collective action to pursue the interests of members.” Working people should be able to form and join unions that are free from Government interference, and able to define their own aims and objectives. They should be able to act to achieve those aims. This right is protected in Article 11 of the Human Rights Act, and also by the International Labour Organisation, a body of the United Nations.
The Trade Union Bill rides roughshod over unions’ right to set their own rules and make their own decisions, from imposing strike thresholds that undermine union democracy, to interfering in unions’ constitutions by changing the law on political funds. Imagine the outcry if the Government changed the law of the land to interfere in the rules of the National Trust or the RSPB, and to tell them what they can or can’t spend their money on. But trade unions? Fair game apparently.
So we will speak out against this attack. We’re busy getting ready for the Third Reading debate in Parliament on Tuesday (the last time MPs will get to vote on the Bill as a whole), and we’ll be asking our campaigners to email, call and tweet their representatives to ask them to vote NO to this Bill. We need those emails to go to every single Member of Parliament - yes, many of them will ignore them and vote for the Bill regardless, but we cannot allow an attack of this scale on our human rights to pass without us calling on every single MP to vote it down.
And we’re ready for the next stage of the campaign too - if the Bill passes on Tuesday, it will move to the House of Lords. We’re already working on the arguments, and the amendments, that will limit the damage that this Bill can do.
Our rights are under attack - rights that people died to win - and we will be fighting for them every step of the way.
Helen Pearce is unionstogether's Head of Campaigns and Comms.