Opinion Former

Unions have a fight on their hands

By Ian Hodson, President, BFAWU

Working people and those who feel disenfranchised have traditionally been able to turn to Trade Unions for help, assistance and collective strength.

Over the years, Trade Unions have used their collectivism to improve pay, terms and conditions and health and safety in the workplace.

Trade Unions had the ability to grind the country to a halt and even topple governments if they were in the mood. Wherever you see positive social changes and improved working conditions throughout UK history, you will more often than not find Trade Unions.

Indeed, had it not been for the BFAWU, bakers would still be wheezing away in cellar bakeries and no-one would be aware of baker’s asthma or mesothelioma.

Unions were once the scourge of the rich and powerful and served to retain a credible social balance, whilst preventing widening gulfs in pay between those at the top of the pay-scale and those at the bottom.

Since Margaret Thatcher’s war on Trade Unions during the 1980s, the Labour Movement has had so many restrictions placed on it that have led to a fall in membership and a neutering of it’s original strength.

That being said, despite some of the worst and most draconian anti-Union legislation in Europe, the Trade Union Movement in the UK can still boast membership of around six million workers and is still a formidable, if not unstoppable outfit when mobilised.

In recent years, it has been Trade Unions that have helped bring about the national minimum wage with improvements to maternity/paternity legislation along with a number of improvements to workplace safety.

However, despite being a force for good, Trade Unions are still under threat. During thirteen years of power and a fair reliance on Trade Union money, the last Labour government did not reverse one piece of anti-trade Union legislation.

The still active Blairite faction of the Labour Party would like to see the influence of Trade Unions done away with altogether. Having already taken considerable steps with the removal of Clause IV and the introduction of one member, one vote, the right wing, careerist element of the party now want to finish the job, which is why Jeremy Corbyn’s candidature for the Labour leadership has been attacked as much as it has by that section of the party.

If being faced with opposition by the very political organisation that they created and still fund/support wasn’t enough, Unions now have another fight on their hands by way of the government’s proposed Trade Union Bill.

I’m not sure that people really understand how far reaching this piece of legislation actually is and what its implications are. In a nutshell, the Trade Union Bill will make the UK one of the most extreme and right wing countries in the world.

It will take working people back to the Victorian master and servant days of the workhouse. This piece of legislation is aimed solely at preventing workers from exercising their basic, hard fought human rights within the workplace.

The attacks in this new bill go further than anyone would have deemed possible. Measures include banning Unions from using social media during the lead-up to any industrial action and forcing strikers to carry identification, whilst allowing employers to use agency labour to cover striking workers and cross their pickets.

The bill also gives employers the freedom to use the police in their favour, thus forcing them to take sides and wreck any community respect and trust they may have had.

That’s if Unions ever get as far as achieving a mandate for industrial action. The Trade Union Bill will ensure that a turnout threshold must be reached in order to secure a mandate. Given the fact that Unions are unable to hold workplace or online ballots, it will make any strike action virtually impossible.

This legislation is being proposed because of fear. If Unions were as weak and toothless as people claim, this bill wouldn’t be anywhere near the table.

The reality is that despite so much anti-Union regulation already in place, the powers that be are still afraid and intimidated by the collective strength that Unions possess.

This strength is also at odds with the big business interests that bankroll and fuel the Conservative Party. Make no mistake; no focus group, no march, no rally, no demonstration and no petition will persuade this government to change course and the Labour Party certainly can’t be trusted to oppose it effectively.

The TUC’s annual sponsored walks around London and snappy soundbites have not and will not give David Cameron and co any pause for thought whatsoever. We need to put our resources and finances not into marches and hiring coaches for a great day out in the capital, but loading up our respective strike funds instead.

In order to break this vindictive, de-humanising bill, the Trade Union needs to be prepared to take direct action and even cross a few lines if necessary.

If the Labour Movement does not come together on this and use its collective power, ordinary people in this country will have no choice but to kiss goodbye to civil liberty and human rights and say hello to the pariah state.

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