Unions vow to 'break the law' to defeat new Trade Union bill

John McDonnell: "Whether it's in Parliament or the picket line, I will be with you"
John McDonnell: "Whether it's in Parliament or the picket line, I will be with you"
Adam Bienkov By

Trade unions last night pledged to break the law in order to defeat 'vicious' new anti-trade union legislation being pushed through by the government.

A series of senior figures in the trade union movement said they were prepared to break the law and even go to prison to defy the upcoming Trade Union Bill.

Michael Bradley of trade union umbrella group Unite the Resistance was among those who urged trade unionists to "defy the law".

"Let's be honest about it. We all know if they push this legislation through the only possible response that will be effective will be if we agree that we are going to defy the law," he told a meeting of the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group in Parliament.


"We are going to break these laws because if not, these laws are going to be used to break us."

His call was supported by Rob Williams of the National Shop Stewards Network.

"There has to be a warning to the Tories that if you pass this legislation there has to be mass strike action on the scale of a 24 hour general strike against this government and this legislation,"

"It is better to break the law than break the poor," he added.

The general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, Matt Wrack, suggested they should be willing to go to prison to defy the bill.

He said the movement should follow in the footsteps of the Pentonville dockers who were imprisoned for defying trade union law in the 1970s.

"When we talk about challenging the law we have to be serious about following that through," he said.

"One of the Pentonville Five ended up as the mayor of Newham. So you can go to prison and still end up in a very respectable position in the political establishment. So there's a challenge for all the fine people on the stage.

Labour's shadow chancellor John McDonnell spoke at the meeting alongside Labour MP Ian Lavery.

He joked that he and Lavery "would be sharing a cell" once the bill was passed and pledged that the Labour party would support the unions in their action.

"This is a struggle," he told the room.

"It's not often you get a shadow chancellor who has also been a flying picket. I give you this commitment all the way through. Whether it's in Parliament or the picket line, I will be with you and so will the Labour party."

Labour's support was welcomed by Wrack and others.

"It's great to have a Labour leader who doesn't apologise [for his support for the unions]" Wrack told the meeting.

"It's put some spine into Labour MPs, which some of us thought we would never see.

Caroline Lucas calls for "direct action" against the Trade Union Bill

Green MP Caroline Lucas also attended the meeting and said that trade unionists should start a campaign of "direct action" against the Bill.

"It is a vindictive assault on UK employment rights which strikes at the heart of the rights enshrined in international conventions," she said.

"I hope very much that we will be able to defeat it on the floor of Parliament, in the chamber, but I will say that if we don't defeat it there we will defeat it with peaceful direct action on the streets for as long as it takes."

If implemented, the new Trade Unions Bill would place draconian restrictions on trade union members' rights to strike, form picket lines and even use social media.

Under proposals being consulted on, union members would have to register in advance with the police in order to form picket lines and even wear armbands identifying them.

The unions believe this could lead to a new form of 'blacklisting' against their members.

General secretary of the PCS union, Mark Serwotka, said all unions must stand together to defy the new law.

"The Tories have thrown down the gauntlet. We have got to pick it up and stuff it back in their face," he said.

"An attack on one union is an attack on all. If the law comes in, if we can't stop it, the very first time they try to bus in scabs to break strikes, the very first time they try to criminalise any picket no matter where it's from, our response has got to be we will have thousands of people outside these workplaces showing our solidarity…

"If a single picket is attacked by these pernicious laws we must all stand in solidarity to stop them doing what they want."

Leading barrister John Hendy QC, said the bill was "legally illiterate" as it would break numerous international conventions and laws.

"It is legally illiterate for them to be doing what they are doing," he said.

"And think of the irony. Here is a government breaking the law while telling the unions that they have got to abide by it. That is the irony."

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