As Trade Union Bill looms top Labour figure speaks out
WORKERS “have a duty” to defy anti-strike measures if they are passed into law, John McDonnell has said.
The shadow chancellor said the Tories’ “scorched-earth policy” was an attempt “to kill off trade unionism in this country,” and that trade unionists “have a human right to resist it.”
The Trade Union Bill, which now only needs the approval of the House of Lords before it becomes law, will impose arbitrary thresholds on strike ballots.
It will also place new restrictions on picketing and end the collection of union subs at source in the public sector.
In a wide-ranging contribution at a conference organised by the Trade Union Coordinating Group, Mr McDonnell told activists: “We’ll do everything we possibly can to defeat [the Trade Union Bill], but the reality is that unfortunately the government’s going to get its way and push most of this through.
“This is a scorched-earth policy by this government to kill off trade unionism in this country within its period of office, and we’ve got to recognise the seriousness of it.
“That means of course we use the democratic process to oppose it … but recognise that if it is introduced into law, if enacted, we still have the right, the human right, to resist it.
“Now we would not have trade union legislation in this country at all, any form of trade union rights, if we were [bound] by the inherited law.
“We’ve always had to campaign in a way that we feel is most effective to secure our basic human rights. And if that means defying unjust legislation, we not just have a right to do it, I think we have a duty.”
Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who also addressed Saturday’s conference, said the need for resistance was evident from Greek tragedy.
“Sophocles’s Antigone is all about the important imperative to defy unjust laws,” he said.
But he called for a nuanced reaction and for workers to take advantage of the focus on balloting to prove its strength.
“It was a mistake in 1984 that we didn’t have ballots during the miners’ strike,” he controversially asserted.
“We should shower them in ballots. We should use this legislation to have ballots where 90 per cent of workers vote in favour of strikes and have ballots every day.”
Probation union Napo general secretary Ian Lawrence agreed that the Bill was only likely to be defeated through “civil disobedience.”
He said this was “not an easy message” to give to union members, but that he was “under no illusions” there would be a Lords rebellion akin to that over tax credit cuts.
CWU general secretary Dave Ward called for campaigners to move “beyond the political process” of the Bill, calling for the TUC to name a date for the day of action it resolved to organise at its annual congress in October.