MPs left squirming as hypocrisy of vicious Tory Trade Union Bill is blown apart by witnesses
POLITICIANS trying to push through vicious anti-strike laws were left squirming yesterday when they were forced to defend their own right to sit in Parliament.
Charity boffins, anti-blacklisting campaigners, lawyers and union leaders appeared before a parliamentary committee to warn that legal challenges to the Tories’ Trade Union Bill were “totally inevitable.”
Tory MPs scorned activists for raising concerns about compulsory armbands on picket lines — but were visibly ruffled when Blacklist Support Group secretary Dave Smith said most would have their elections invalidated if they faced the restrictions they are seeking to impose on strike ballots.
The Bill requires 50 per cent of eligible members to vote for a strike ballot to be valid. In so-called “core” public services such as schools, hospitals, railways and fire brigades, 40 per cent of all eligible voters must back strike action.
When the issue of thresholds was raised, Mr Smith hit back: “A 50 per cent threshold wouldn’t get most of you into this room. Most of you haven’t got 50 per cent!
“Why is it that trade unions exercising their democratic human right are penalised to such an extent that nobody else in this country faces?”
MPs snorted in disbelief and heckled Mr Smith, who said: “I said most, not all.”
Labour MP Sir Alan Meale, who was chairing the session, slapped down the blacklisted construction worker for questioning the legitimacy of the public bill committee.
Thompsons Solicitors chief executive Stephen Cavalier told the committee the Bill was “unlawful, unwarranted and unworkable” and “has been designed specifically to make it difficult, if not impossible, to take the necessary steps to comply with its provisions.
“This Bill is a full-frontal assault on the rights of working people. The right of workers to act collectively and ultimately, as a last resort to strike is fundamental and essential to any democratic society.”
Train drivers’ union Aslef leader Mick Whelan said: “We represent ordinary, decent, hard-working men and women, doing a safety-critical job to ensure passengers get the first-class public transport service they deserve and we know this Bill is designed to make things much worse for every one of them.”
Mr Smith warned that the Bill’s requirement to supply details of picket leaders to the police would lead to a “state-sponsored blacklist” accessible to Special Branch. He said there was evidence of police officers supplying information to construction bosses.
Amnesty International’s Shane Enright said banning the check-off system of collecting subs from wages was “entirely without precedent in peacetime Britain.”
And he said legal challenges to the Bill would be “totally inevitable.”
He was backed up by human rights charity Liberty policy officer Sara Ogilvie, who said: “I cannot see that [unions] would not challenge the Bill at the European Court of Human Rights.”
The public bill committee scrutinising the proposed laws will be addressed by union leaders including TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady and Unite’s Len McCluskey today.