Tories want us weak and under constant pressure from bosses. By Mick Cash
The Tories have launched the biggest crackdown on trade union rights for 30 years, including new plans to criminalise picketing, permit employers to hire strike-breaking agency staff and choke off the flow of union political funds.
These vindictive and authoritarian proposals seem to be chiefly aimed at transport workers across the country who are fighting privatisation, job cuts and threats to safety and these battles have intensified since the election in May for obvious reasons.
The new Tory regime is not only encouraging employers to attack workers, it is bringing in a raft of anti-trade union laws to tie the hands of anyone who wants to defend them.
Nevertheless it failed to stop over 20,000 trade unionists from standing united and taking strike action on the Tube in order to fight for workplace justice.
All four unions representing workers on London Underground overwhelmingly voted for strike action, with RMT delivering a mandate of over 91 per cent.
Tube management has managed to alienate its entire workforce with the way it has approached the issue of night-running.
Bulldozing through the new rosters without discussion and outside of the longstanding agreements was always a disaster waiting to happen.
London MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn, called on London Mayor Boris Johnson to withdraw the arbitrary imposition of night working, coming on the back of massive cuts to staffing and strains on the existing infrastructure.
Yet Johnson only saw sense and dropped these crazy, dangerous and ill-thought-out proposals after workers took strike action.
This kind of direct approach is also the only way to stop the Conservative government — only elected on 24 per cent of the electorate — from introducing further draconian anti-trade union legislation such as the Trade Union Bill.
This anti-democratic Bill will introduce a 50 per cent voting threshold for union ballot turnouts, plus a requirement of 40 per cent of those entitled to vote in favour of industrial action in certain essential public services (health, education, fire and transport).
There are additional restrictions on picketing, an opt-in process for the political fund trade union subscriptions as well as increased industrial action notice periods and time limits on a mandate following a ballot for industrial action.
We need a mass lobby and national rallies against the Bill becoming law and generalised strike action should legal action be taken against any affiliate in connection with these new laws.
In order to become a civilised society we need to strengthen the role of trade unions, not demonise and outlaw the only organisations designed to protect workers.
Moreover we need to recognise that the European Union has been a barrier to protecting workers — not the protection once promised.
Not only has social Europe been replaced by anti-social Europe, by attacking trade union rights across the continent, EU rules are privatising ferry services in Scotland and enforcing the privatisation of EU state railways. The EU-wide drive to cut and casualise transport workers’ jobs are directly linked to these neoliberal, Thatcherite rules.
Therefore we must continue to fight for rail renationalisation, opposing any proposals to break up and privatise Network Rail while pushing for the Tube to be kept in public ownership.
As part of that campaign my union will be arguing to get Britain out of the EU in order to rebuild our economy in the interests of working people. The Tories will be desperate to keep us in and bound to EU rules that privatise our public services.
We also need to take action to stem the continuing decline in the number of British seafarers. Projections show numbers will diminish to potentially catastrophic levels over the next decade.
Over 90 per cent of British trade comes and goes by sea and that shipping should be a pivotal part of government transport policy.
Therefore we urge unions to help us persuade the government to implement policies to increase the training and employment of British seafarers by UK ship operators, and ensure that in its day-to-day work it consistently reinforces the need for action to prevent the exploitation of non-domiciled seafarers on ships operating in British waters — including the enforcement of national minimum wage, Equality Act, work permit and MLC 2006 requirements.
We also need to recognise the devastating impact of the decline in the oil price and activity in Britain’s offshore oil and gas industry. Energy companies have already made hundreds of redundancies and many more jobs will be lost in the UK offshore sector without measures to promote investment.
We need to resist commercial pressures that erode safety standards and reduce employment and training levels, and to support unions resisting changes to working hours, rest and leave entitlement and the provision of emergency support services.
This means adopting measures to protect skills and experience in the offshore sector, to ensure that the UK continental shelf is not exposed to unfair competition and that out offshore policies match those in force in countries such as Norway.
We are all locked into a fight to defend the very principles of the right to organise and the right to strike. We know what we need to do to stop them, let’s start now.