Dave 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.