Opinion Former Article

Unite: Employment Bill - key Commons stages

11am, Tuesday, 4th November
Committee Room 11, House of Commons

Speakers include Jon Cruddas MP; Tony Lloyd MP; Tony Woodley, joint general secretary, Unite; and Nick Lowles, Director, Searchlight

MPs and unions fight to protect right to expel extremists Leading UK trade unions and MPs are pressing the Government to show leadership and act to protect unions from attack by extreme right-wing groups.

Fears are growing across the labour movement that unless the Government backs a series of key amendments to the Employment Bill as it enters its key Commons' stages on Tuesday (November 4th) trade unions will become highly vulnerable to infiltration from the BNP and the far right.

According to unions, Labour MPs and anti-fascist campaign group Searchlight, amendments to the Bill made during its Lords' stages must be overturned because they prevent unions from expelling people for membership of a political party, an issue that came to recent prominence when train drivers union Aslef fought for and lost the right to expel a BNP activist from their ranks. Further, the Lords' regressive changes come at a time when the BNP is a growing menace and seeking to extend its bases within Britain's communities.

At a press briefing ahead of the Commons' debate (Tuesday), a coalition embracing the UK's biggest union Unite, key Labour MPs Tony Lloyd, chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party and Jon Cruddas MP for Dagenham, and anti-fascist campaigners Searchlight, will set out proposed changes to the Bill and warn that unless the Government gets behind them, unions will be powerless to act in the face of the far right attacks on their ranks.

Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, is calling for the Government to defend unions from racists: "Without amendment to protect unions and their members, this Bill will send a big signal to the BNP and other merchants of hate that they have a place in our movement. They do not. Their poisonous philosophy is contrary to our values, has no place in our unions and we must have the right to be able protect our structures and our members from their attacks.

"Modern day trade unionism is being disfigured by our inability to expel those with repulsive views from our ranks. Labour MPs and the Government must show leadership on this vital issue - stand behind these amendments and demonstrate that extremists have no place and will never be allowed a place in our movement."

Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham, who has led the fight against the BNP in his constituency is warning: "It is incomprehensible that while the threat to our communities posed by the BNP grows, the very law which should support unions as they seek to protect themselves from the far right could be seriously weakened. This is not the time or place to give in to those who do not understand the central role unions play in bringing our communities and workplaces together. We must not open up our unions to the politics of division."

The group is proposing a series of amendments which bring together key issues for unions, ranging from the right to expel those with racist views to measures to improve the balloting process and action to prevent agency workers being used to undermine lawful industrial disputes. Together, the amendments will do much to bring the UK into line with the international labour standards.

A fuller explanation of the union amendments can be read in an article by Tony Woodley published today (Monday) on the Guardian's Comment is Free website.


For media calls, please contact Ciaran Naidoo 0207 420 8931 or 07768931315. For further information on the amendments contact Byron Taylor (TULO) on 07961 445 655

Notes to Editors
* The coalition of MPs and unions is being brought together by the Trade Union and Labour Liaison Organisation (TULO), the body which brings together Labour Party affiliated unions with Labour MPs. Tony Woodley is the newly-elected chair of TULO.

* Copies of the full briefing on the amendments will be available at the press briefing.

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