Now Is the Time To Fight the Anti-Union Laws!

Submitted by AWL on 1 July, 2008 - 10:33 Author: Editorial

Rising inflation and the government policy of wage cutting by keeping wage increases below inflation, is reviving active, militant trade unionism.

Workers are being faced with the choice to either fight or docilely let their living standards be forced down by a government whose pandering to the rich was a already, even before it adopted a policy of “fighting inflation” by cutting the real wages of low paid workers, a scandal and an obscenity.

The anti-union laws which the Thatcher Tories imposed at the beginning of the 1980s and Blair-Brown have kept on the statute books through 11 years of New Labour government, are an important weapon in the hands of the Government against rising militant trade unionism.

They are likely to take on a practical importance such as they have not had since the great miners’ strike of 1984-85.

This is a wage-cutting government that is armed with savage anti-working class legislation which denies to the unions the right to legally do things that are essential to effective trade unionism

These laws, centrally, outlaw sympathetic strike action by workers who are not directly concerned in the matter in dispute. Effectively they outlaw core trade unionism — solidarity action — by confining its legal exercises within very narrow limits.

Such glorious deeds of the not so distant past as coal miners going on strike on behalf of hospital workers, who were reluctant to strike because of the nature of their jobs, could not now legally happen in Britain.

The anti-union laws tie the unions into rigid procedures — a ballot of union members — without which strikes are illegal and a union going on strike is liable to have its funds seized. What this does is slow everything down: it outlaws the quick, sharp industrial action that served us so well during the years of great labour militancy from the early-50s to the late-70s.

Just before New Labour won the 1997 General Election, Tory-Tony Blair promised the Daily Mail that a New Labour government would not repeal Thatcher’s anti-union legislation, which, he acknowledged, was the most restrictive labour legislation in Europe. He kept his word to the Mail.

It is one measure of how far New Labour, “left” and right alike, now is from the labour movement, that the government’s retention of the Tory anti-union laws has not evoked a fierce and implacable campaign for their repeal.

There have been many revolts by Labour MPs — the only still-alive remnant of the old Labour Party — but not on trade union freedom.

The wretched once-upon-a-time coal miner and one-time working class militant. Dennis Skinner, who has let himself become a popular “comic turn” in the Commons and a pet of the Blairites — the people who keep the legal shackles on the unions! — epitomises the state of the labour movement.

The trade unions themselves have not campaigned for the removal of the legal chains they wear. John McDonnell has found it impossible to get anywhere in the Commons with his “Trade Union Freedom Bill”.

And the anti-union laws already on the statute books is not the only legislation we need to concern ourselves with. If the Tories win the next General Election they are likely to stop or severely limit the right of trade unions to finance a political party.

Immediately this would be a great blow to New Labour, whose rich backers have done a rat-run from the floundering Blair-Brown hulk, but it would also stop unions organising a replacement for the old Labour Party.

A reconstructed Labour Party would be legally impossible.

When a 1909 court ruling (the Osbourne Judgment) threatened to annihilate the newly organised Labour Party by choking off union funds, the Liberal government of the time legislated to undo the court ruling. A Liberal government…

Today in the EU Britain’s anti union laws are at odds with the union rights enjoyed by other west European workers. The EU licences Britain’s exceptionalism here, but even so, the gap between Britain and the rest of the EU may give the unions room for legal manoeuvre.

In any case, workers should break the law if necessary. If enough unions, their members acting officially or unofficially, do that, the anti-union legislation may be rendered inoperable.

The right to take solidarity action is the core trade union freedom and the very heart of labour movements. We must restore the right of British workers to legally take such action, that is, act as fighting trade unionists.

Now is the time to make a new drive against the anti-union laws — a political campaign for trade union freedoms must be made part of the revival of active trade unionism.

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