Industrial action must come alongside legal challenges. By FBU general secretary Matt Wrack
This Conservative government doesn’t just want to weaken the trade union movement, it wants to decimate it.
In Cameron and co’s perfect world workers’ rights would be consigned to the dustbin of history alongside the dodo and betamax video recorders. With their Trade Union Bill they will be closer to achieving it.
Attacks on working people are set to continue, and even get worse, over the next five years, with the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimating one million more public-sector jobs could be lost.
As well as further public-sector pay freezes, more of those jobs will be handed over to private companies where working conditions and union membership will doubtless be targeted.
The Trade Union Bill will restrict members’ ability to organise collectively by including turnout thresholds for strike ballots, restricting pickets and removing the ban on using agency workers to replace strikers. The whole approach aims at further shifting the balance of power from labour to capital — from workers to the bosses.
This is not the time to give in, to roll over and accept their awful vision of our future. This is the time to fight back harder than ever. Because when workers fight back, we can win. That’s why the FBU has put forward a motion at TUC Congress to build a co-ordinated and integrated campaign to stop these government attacks.
This Tory government only has a working majority of 12 in the House of Commons — fewer than John Major’s weak administration after the 1992 election, which was marred by infighting and division over Europe.
This government is not invincible. Our movement needs to take advantage of this to fight not only the Trade Union Bill, but austerity as well.
Trade unions must co-ordinate their action against the austerity agenda together and involve more groups from outside our movement. Tory attacks on millions of non-unionised workers, youths, students and pensioners throughout Britain mean these people desperately need a voice. Trade unions should be that voice.
We need to lobby government at every level. We need organising committees — based on local unions, trades councils, and existing anti-austerity campaigns — to co-ordinate local activity.
We should build meetings and rallies in every region and city of Britain calling on other workers and campaigners not in unions to join the fightback.
We must also prepare to take sustained and co-ordinated industrial action. Not as a token, flag-waving protest but as part of a serious industrial strategy.
My union has taken a stand against the government over their attacks on firefighters’ pensions with a three-pronged fightback.
We have combined the use of industrial action with legal challenges made in the High Court and political lobbying of members of Parliament.
Other unions have had similar fights.
The remarkable developments around Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign have shown what is possible. Corbyn’s rise shows what a radical agenda can achieve.
Who would have thought a few months ago that Labour, not so long ago dominated by Blairites, would elect a clearly anti-austerity leader who will challenge the status quo and establishments from the get go? Who would have thought that tens of thousands of people would be drawn into political activity on the left so soon after the general election defeat?