Green benches let loose against Javid attack on unions
LABOUR leader Jeremy Corbyn led a formidable display of unity last night against the Tories’ “authoritarian” anti-union laws.
Mr Corbyn pledged to make the fight against the Trade Union Bill a top priority for Labour under his leadership when he was elected on Saturday.
And he took his place on the front bench for the first time for yesterday’s debate, flanked by his shadow cabinet and hundreds of Labour MPs.
Just two dozen Tory MPs turned up to defend the government’s plans for strike ballot thresholds, criminalised picketing laws and social media surveillance.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid made a surprise effort to sweet talk away opposition, opening the debate — provocatively scheduled during TUC Congress — by acknowledging that trade unions “have done much to help deliver a fairer society.”
He revealed how trade unions supported his father “when a whites-only policy threatened to block him becoming a bus driver.”
He even claimed: “At the heart of this Bill, it’s all about democracy and accountability.”
This was too much for Green MP Caroline Lucas, who sprung up from her seat to accuse him of “pretending this Bill is about democracy rather than being a vindictive attack on working people.”
And veteran Labour MP David Winnick said his “fine words” about unions were compromised by a “continous Tory vendetta against the trade union movement.”
“He should be thoroughly ashamed he’s bringing this Bill,” Mr Winnick told the minister.
Mr Javid refused to consider progressive proposals to boost participation in strike ballots by holding them online and in workplaces, citing limp concerns about fraud. But the minister suggested that the Bill could be made even more draconian at committee stage.
He suggested that ballot thresholds, currently set to be imposed on “essential” public services, could be extended to “other sectors.”
His admission comes a day after the Star revealed that bosses’ club CBI has been demanding ballot thresholds be imposed in the private sector.
In an effort to undermine opposition, Tory MP Jake Berry demanded that Labour MPs declare whether they are sponsored by trade unions before they speak in the debate. He didn’t call for Tories to declare company sponsorship.
“People who are watching our proceedings will want to know the reason that people are taking part,” he said.
Speaker John Bercow, who hailed the “invaluable” work of trade unions in a speech at TUC congress earlier, said there was “no requirement” on Labour MPs to declare their support.
But shadow business secretary Angela Eagle responded by declaring: “I am a lifelong and proud trade unionist.”
And Labour backbenchers followed Ms Eagle’s lead by proudly stating their union affiliations at the start of their speeches.
Norwich South MP Clive Lewis said: “I am sponsored by trade unions — the cleanest money in British politics.”
The government was expected to win a vote on the second reading of the Bill, scheduled for 10pm last night.
It will now be considered by a committee of MPs and in the Lords, where it could be made even more draconian.
Swansea West MP Geraint Davies warned: “This bill will get people on the streets, that’s what it’ll do — force conflict rather than collaboration to increase productivity.”
Brighton Pavilion MP Ms Lucas also said yesterday that she was “prepared to join trade unionists and others in taking non-violent direct action to resist it.”
Tory MP David Davis described the Bill as a “serious restriction of freedom of association” and said he would attempt to make amendments to it.