Today I voted against the Trade Union Bill because it is offensive in so very many ways. It is anti worker, anti freedom and actually anti British. It is not necessary but it is definitely provocative and is a threat to positive industrial relations. The Conservative Party have said over and over again that they are the Party of working people. And yet they seem not understand that trade unions were formed by the workers for the workers. Over the course of history, the workplace has been the scene of many grave injustices. In the 19th century and the industrial revolution. We all know about the terrible working conditions, 14 hours a day of hard labour six days a week, starvation wages, a total lack of any concern for health and safety. Workers were an expendable commodity, children as young as six were set to work in the mines and up the chimneys. Does anyone think that these abuses were stopped because the owners of the mines and factories thought it was wrong? Was it stopped because Queen Victoria and the Lords and Ladies of the court thought it inhumane? The members of Parliament did not wake up one day and think we must improve conditions for British workers? NO, it was stopped because those workers came together as trade unionists and fought the owners and the government to DEMAND better conditions and better pay.
I think the first time I came across the work done by trade unions was when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I was watching the tv program ‘When the boat comes in’ a drama about a family in a North East mining community set just after the First World War. In one particular episode the father of the family Bill Seaton is permanently crippled by an accident down the pit and while he is still in hospital trying to come to terms with his condition the lawyer on behalf of the coal mining company is intimidating him into accepting their derisory offer of compensation. He is just about to sign when in strides Jack Ford the branch secretary for the National Union of Miners to save the day, demanding fair and proper compensation for the injured man and sending the weasely lawyer on his way with a flea in his ear. I knew instinctively whose side I was on. I knew that trade unions were a force for good. And I resent this proposed legislation that paints trade unionists as villains of the peace in need of urgent curtailment.
Some would say that is all in the past, we don’t need the Unions anymore, the workers have never had it so good. That is a long way short of the truth. The type of work may have changed its not working in the mines or the foundries any more….the Tories have shut them all down, but the struggle goes on in shops and call centres, in the care homes and hotels. Whether it is the shop worker on a zero hour contract who has to call in each morning to see if there is any work or is sent home early because it’s a bit quiet. The care worker on minimum wage looking after our old, sick and vulnerable who hasn’t the time to care and doesn’t get paid for the time spent travelling between calls. As long as there is the potential for workers to be exploited there is a need for trade Unions.
In Britain there are 6.4 million trade unionists members of the largest democratic voluntary groups in our society. The number of days lost through strike action is at an all time low. So why then is there the need for this legislation. Britain already has some of the strictest union rules in Europe. Trade unions perform a number of different roles in modern industrial relations. They provide individual support and representation for members, undertake and coordinate collective action on behalf of members, and effect changes to working rights and conditions by seeking changes at a legislative and political level. Pay, conditions, health and safety, dispute resolution, training, promotion of equality and diversity and enforcement of statutory employment rights all fall within their workload. Trade union officials often undertake health and safety functions that statute requires companies to fulfil. It is a fact that modern countries with the best records of industrial relations enjoy higher levels of productivity. Germany is an excellent example. There trade union influence within larger companies is guaranteed by their seats on supervisory boards giving them a say in the hiring and firing of management and decisions over company strategy. This is commonplace in large successful companys like BMW who understand working with the union helps to boost productivity and allows greater flexibility in adjusting to downturns. They understand that cooperation is better than confrontation.
This legislation is all about confrontation. It us unreasonable and unjustWhy must there be a turn out of 50% when the turn out at the Police and Crime Commissioner elcetions averaged only 15%? Why are abstentions to be counted as no votes? This doesn’t happen in other British elections. I understand that we want to maximise the participation in the best democratic tradition so why instead do we not introduce electronic voting? If it is good enough for Zac Goldsmith I think it is good enough for trade unions. Why is the government proposing to treat trade unionists like criminals? Why do picket organisors have to wear armbands? It sounds like something out of Nazi Germany. The proposals in this bill will make it very difficult for trade unionists to exercise the most basic of rights: the right to strike. Winston Churchill described the right to strike as one of the pillars of British Society and he was right. This legislation is a restriction on British freedoms and sets a dangerous precedent.