Our movement must stand united to defend trade unions and migrant workers from vicious scapegoating, writes FRANCES O’GRADY
THIS year’s May Day comes at a critical moment for working people. The Trade Union Bill will soon gain royal assent.
Through our campaigning, our lobbying, and — above all — our unity as a movement, the government was forced into a series of important U-turns.
Plans to end check-off payment of union subs — which would have cut membership numbers and lost unions millions of pounds — were stopped. Harsh new restrictions on picketing were dropped. Changes to union political funds were kicked way down the road. Proposals to cut time off for reps were watered down.
But make no mistake; this divisive and unnecessary Bill still poses a huge threat to good industrial relations and we will continue to oppose it in its entirety.
As the EU referendum draws nearer, we should learn the lessons of the Trade Union Bill. The Bill has shown that many within the Conservative Party want to weaken vital employment protections and see leaving Europe as an opportunity to inflict more damage.
Millions of workers depend on the rights which trade unionists have won over the past century. Many of these rights are now guaranteed by the European Union: maternity pay, redundancy rights, consultation, working time, holidays and anti-discrimination protections.
If we leave the EU, we lose the legal guarantee that these rights will be protected. Could we really depend on a post-Brexit Tory government to uphold and maintain them?
Not a chance. The howls of outrage from pro-Brexit Tories at government concessions on the Trade Union Bill show they are desperate to roll back workers’ rights.
Leaving the EU also endangers jobs, particularly in manufacturing. Hundreds of thousands of workers’ livelihoods depend on access to the EU’s single market.
I respect the different views on this referendum within our movement. Indeed, I would share many criticisms of the EU. But my view — and that of the overwhelming majority of the trade union movement — is clear. A Brexit would be a massive gamble with our rights and our jobs.
We can all unite in refusing to let migrant workers be scapegoated for pressure on public services caused by savage cuts, or shrinking pay packets caused by business greed.
Today, May Day, gives us an annual opportunity to celebrate, protect and further the cause of working people. This year, we should embrace our proud commitment to internationalism and join with people across Europe to get a better, fairer deal for workers worldwide.
• Frances O’Grady is general secretary of the TUC.