ALL four Labour leadership candidates vowed yesterday to resist and repeal proposed Tory laws that threaten to make legal strikes impossible.
At a huge trade union hustings in London, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall joined Jeremy Corbyn in opposing plans to impose turnout thresholds on all strike ballots.
But only Mr Corbyn promised to go further and reverse restrictive Thatcher-era laws that left Britain in breach of international conventions on employment rights.
They voiced their opposition to the government’s Trades Union Bill in answer to a question from Dave Dash of bakers’ union BFAWU.
Proposals include a 50 per cent turnout threshold for any strike ballot to be valid and placing the bar higher in essential services by requiring 40 per cent of all eligible members to vote to back strike action.
Mr Dash asked: “If you were Labour leader, would you repeal the anti-trade union laws so that so that unions can protect their members’ terms and conditions to stop the race to the bottom?”
The question was met with cheers and applause from hundreds of members of Labour’s 15 affiliated trade unions.
Ms Cooper answered first, saying: “The ones that the Tories are about to bring in, I think we should oppose and, if they manage to bring them, then we should repeal them.”
Mr Burnham replied: “We’ve got a big fight coming on ballot thresholds and, as leader, I would fight that all the way with you, side by side.”
For her part, Ms Kendall said: “The proposals the Tories are putting forward on strike thresholds and opt-in for the political funding and independent running of trade unions, we should oppose them and, if we’re elected in 2020, reverse them.”
Only Mr Corbyn was willing to take on what he called Margaret Thatcher’s “systematic attack on every good piece of legislation on rights at work and trade unions.
“We’ve got the worst trade union legislation in western Europe,” he declared.
“The very least we can do is say that every worker has a right to be covered by collective bargaining, every worker has a right to join a trade union.”
Mr Dash welcomed the opposition to the latest Tory laws from all the candidates, but said: “Jeremy Corbyn is the one really for me.”
He told the Star: “Jeremy’s speaking my language.
“We need a Labour leader that’s going to progress us in a direction that makes us completely different from the Tories.”
The three other candidates said they would not oppose laws passed during the four terms of Tory rule between 1979 and 1997.
Within a year of Thatcher’s first victory, the Tories had made it harder for unions to win recognition in workplaces and banned secondary strike action.
The laws remain in force, in defiance of International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions. Mr Burnham insisted: “We’ve got fight the battles of today, not yesterday.”
But Institute of Employment Rights director Carolyn Jones said: “We had seven pieces of legislation previously, none of which was repealed by New Labour, all of which have been criticised by the ILO and need removing from the statute book.
“As Tony Blair said, British trade union law is the most restrictive in the Western world.
“Of course, he said that proudly, but we’d say it with shame.”
The Institute of Employment Rights is holding a one-day conference on human rights at work at GMB offices in London today. For more information visit www.ier.org.uk.