The Trade Union Bill is an attempt to make workers disposable

dave watson speechDave Watson is the Secretary of Trade Unions for Scottish Labour. He says the aim of the Trade Union Bill is to drive a seed change in workplace power and culture, forcing the best employers into a race to the bottom.


The Trade Union Bill is a ferocious attack on almost every aspect of trade unionism, but also on fairer workplaces, human rights and our democratic traditions.

The Bill shifts the balance of power in workplaces further to the advantage of employers and away from workers, whether they are in a union or not. It is fundamentally an attack on core trade union activity: facility time, check off, and the ability of unions to underpin collective bargaining with a credible right to strike.  It subjects unions to unprecedented levels of civil and criminal penalties, red tape, and monitoring by the Certification Officer. It proposes to curtail unions’ abilities to fund political activities and campaigns, within the Labour Party and wider civil alliances and groups. Even a right wing Tory MP, David Davis, has described the restrictions on protest as reminiscent of Franco’s Spain.

On behalf of Trade Unions for Scottish Labour, can I thank all those party activists who have participated in the Scottish Labour campaign against the Bill. Kez led the way from the outset in her speech responding to the Scottish Government’s legislative programme. That was followed up, both in Parliament and outside, with leaflets, street stalls and other campaign materials. There was no leadership equivocation, no dithering, just clear messages and effective campaigning. Labour council leaders have taken a strong position of opposition and the CoSLA statement that they stand ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the trade unions on this issue is one of the strongest positions they have taken for a generation.

I write this post on my way back from a meeting organised by Western Isles Labour last night in Stornoway, one of many right across Scotland. If there are any positives to be taken from the Bill, it has brought together all wings of the movement in a way that has been sadly absent in recent years.

Kez rightly identified the key devolved issues and pressed the SNP to exercise the powers they already have by calling for a Legislative Consent Motion. Amendments to the Bill at Westminster that aim to achieve a similar outcome are helpful, but the parliamentary arithmetic is against significant success. Most trade unions support the devolution of employment law, but even if it were possible to secure a parliamentary majority for that proposition, it wouldn’t happen until 2017. By that time the Bill will have done serious damage to the trade union movement. Labour in Wales was also quick off the mark on this issue, recognising that an LCM would put their Parliament in the position of negotiators, not pleaders.

Important though the details of the Bill are, we should not lose sight of the political strategy that underpins it. Even Margaret Thatcher rejected many of these measures and they have little support from real business interests. In particular, she regarded partisan attacks on political funds as undemocratic. However, the present day Tory party is bought and paid for by the hedge funds and asset strippers who view organised labour as a barrier to the sort of UK economy they want to see. If you look at the previous work experience of Sajid Javid, the minister responsible for the bill, or Jeremy Hunt’s remarks about Chinese and American workers, you can see where the modern day Tory party gets its inspiration.

As Will Hutton said in the Observer, “Once firms cherished their workers, now they are seen as disposable”. He was using Amazon’s shocking work practices, as his example of a new work culture and that is precisely the model the Tories want to see. They know that organised workplaces have better wages and conditions and that drives up standards elsewhere. In addition, many of the Bill’s provisions focus on public sector because trade unions are the main opponents of their plan to slash public services and reduce the role of the state.

The Trade Union Bill aims to make it as difficult as possible to join a trade union. If you do join, the Bill will make it more difficult for unions to organise, represent, bargain, campaign and take action. However, its real aim is to drive a seed change in workplace power and culture. Forcing the best employers into a race to the bottom. This legislation should be renamed as the Amazon Bill.

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6 thoughts on “The Trade Union Bill is an attempt to make workers disposable

  1. I suppose we could say-” beware of unintended consequences” when discussing what Westminster legislates for. But this IS what the NO campaign was about—the right of an elected ( with only 25% of the UK electorate, and 10% of the Scottish) Conservative Government to do as it pleases over the entire UK.
    Mr Watson and the rest of the leaders of Scotland’s Trades Union movement, must have been aware of the potential for another Tory win, and another, and another, when they campaigned against Independence, and for the “Vow”—a waffle too far for many people.
    It is difficult to see the splits in Labour healing any time soon, and it is difficult to see Labour ever holding a majority in Westminster again. Tory policies do hurt the poorest, and weakest, but even Labour is now wary of challenging cuts to welfare (social funding).
    Perhaps this is the problem the old Liberal Party went through over its sharp decline a century ago. Left Liberals or right National Liberals—-then no Liberals at all, as they were replaced by Labour and Tories, more naturally left and right.
    So when Mr Watson sees the decline in Trade Union power, leading to a decline in membership, and therefore a decline in funding for Labour, he can reflect on his own small part in this, as can we all.
    Labour has gained new members ( though we aren’t allowed to know how many in Scotland ), but this is only because of Corbyn, and he doesn’t appear to be a viable Leader for very long.

    1. What do you mean “we aren’t allowed to know how many in Scotland”? Labour has been more open about its membership figures than the SNP! Kez stated the membership figure very recently. For once stop just saying “Labour bad” and look at reality.

      1. More open? I finally found where Kez has stated the figures. Three weeks ago! So Labour now has 18,800 members( I used to be one ), plus affiliates. As far as I can see, the SNP has been up-front with its figures all the way through, and only recently boasted they were up to 114,000.
        Labour bad?—no. Labour has been indolent and indifferent to the fate of their so-called “heartlands” for decades. I worked for 25 years in the mining industry in Ayrshire, in an area Keir Hardie would have known well, and we gave our support to vote in a Labour MP for a century. When the industry closed, and Labour came back to power, they did nothing for Cumnock and Doon Valley( or Ayrshire as a whole) to bring new industry in, or to revitalise our area. Labour did, however, make George Foulkes a Lord. Why? To claim expenses to live in a flat he OWNED?
        We got open-cast mining instead of proper industry, with Scottish Coal, a company which didn’t meet its financial obligations to the Pension Fund or to pay sufficient Bonds to clean up the huge ecological damage they caused. Brian Wilson was a long term Director of that Company, right until it folded. We are left with the damage. Wilson is fine, however.
        Labour has a long road back to regain trust in communities it was once lauded in.

  2. It is great to see the Scottish Government and SNP fighting on behalf of workers and the trade unions in Scotland to opt-out of the anti trade union bill and seeking to getting trade union legislation devolved back to Scotland. Its a shame that the Labour Party UK and Jeremy Corbyn have rejected a pact to work with the Scottish Government and SNP to make this happen see the link below. I don’t know the Scottish Labour sections position on this matter so I assume its the same as the Labour Party UK which is a pity.

    1. Fascinating. So you read an article from one of Scotland’s leading trade unionists which sets out very clearly the 100% support that Scottish Labour has given to the campaign against the Trade Union Bill, and then you say “I don’t know the Scottish Labour sections position on this matter” (despite it being RIGHT ABOVE WHERE YOU TYPED THAT), and then you cite the Putin propaganda station Russia Today!

      That is an immense, glorious effort to remain in ignorance, and I can only offer you my hearty congratulations on achieving your goal.

      1. Duncan thank you for your input it’s always welcome I think that the wee dig you had at at Russia Today is a tad unkind to say the least, compared with the Scottish Labour section organ of the Daily Record remember the VOW and the powers that were promised and have not been delivered. If I had to choose between the Daily Record and Russia Today for honesty, integrity and honest reporting then there there is only one clear winner and its Russia Today.

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