The latest anti-union proposals from Cameron’s cabinet show the naked class hatred of democracy that lies at the heart of the Tory party writes Richard Allday
The sanctimonious hypocrisy of the Eton mess running the government knows no bounds. The latest anti-union proposals from Cameron’s cabinet show the naked class hatred of democracy that lies at the heart of the Tory party.
They dress up their attacks on working class democracy in mealy-mouthed Orwellian ‘newspeak’, but the rationale is as old as the Tory party itself. There are eight major attacks that they propose:
1"Unlawful or intimidatory” picketing is to become a criminal (as opposed to civil) offence – so you will now be able to collect a criminal record for calling a scab a scab! And the union will have to ensure a named official to be available “at all times” to oversee the picket – which is an open invite to the police or employer to practice sleep deprivation techniques.
2Any strike ballot will expire within 4 months, after which a new ballot (complete with all the existing hurdles) will be required to continue action.
3The government to decide the amount of paid time off a public employee union rep can take to represent her/his members – not the employer, note, the government.
4Employers will be given the legal right to hire strikebreakers – in the interest of protecting the democratic right of employers to ride roughshod over their workforce.
5Unions will now have to give employers two weeks notice of any intended action – which notice will be open to legal challenge by the employer right up to the last minute.
6Unions will have to provide a legally compliant description of the nature of the trade dispute, as well as the proposed industrial action, on the ballot paper “so that all union members are clear what they are voting for”.
7The government-appointed Certification officer will be given the power to levy fines of £20,000 for breaches of their duties to report on their activities – including a comprehensive audit of pickets and protests sanctioned or paid for by the union.
8It will require all unions (whether they are Labour-affiliated or not) to ask each individual member if they wish to pay the political lev - and repeat this process every 5 years.
Nowhere in their proposals is there any suggestion of making the balloting process more accessible. They insist the only acceptable form of ballot is by post. They doubtless will insist on a particular form of wording that must be used.
Running through all this is the central thread of hatred of any collective organization by working people, and the resultant desire to weaken any resistance to the point of complete ineffectiveness. The smog of propaganda about ‘empowering hardworking people’ is a lie, pure and simple. The simple truth is that we live in a world riven by class. There's 'us', the vast majority, who have no means of survival save selling our ability to labour; and there’s 'them', the rich and powerful, who live off the profits they make from our labour.
Because they do nothing, (except the arduous job of dreaming up their next money-making scam), we would notice very little difference if every company director, chairman of the board, or senior consultant withdrew their labour – because they produce nothing. On the other hand, because we live in an interdependent world, any group of workers, in transport, health, catering, distribution, education or whatever, perform work that affects other workers.
It is in the nature of this society that strikes impinge on other groups of workers. If London transport workers strike, it affects the ability of millions of Londoners (and commuters) to get to work. It doesn’t affect Cameron, who just calls his chauffeur.
Likewise, the nonsense about ‘democracy’ and the ‘right to work’: you never heard Cameron denouncing Jim Ratcliffe (owner of the Ineos refinery at Grangemouth) when he threatened the jobs of thousands of Scottish workers unless they accepted wage cuts. The ‘right to work’ only applies to scabs in Cameron’s world.
Likewise, the nonsense about ‘intimidating’ pickets: it is a harsh truth that there are members of our own class who are prepared to lick the boss’s arse, and stab their fellow workers in the back. They have no respect for the democratic will, and are a convenient tool for the employer. It is because they have no respect for democracy, because they are prepared to flout any decision collectively agreed by their fellow workers, that they are so beloved by Cameron and his class.
And so on, and so on: it is because we live in a class-divided society that Cameron and the Tories feel the need to weaken the power of organized labour. They know the weaker we feel, the more they can take the piss.
It is revealing that the major response of the Labour Party has been a (very) weak objection to the limitations on industrial action, but outrage at the attack on the political fund – with the honourable exception of Jeremy Corbyn, who concentrates on the threat to working people.
We need to be clear that this Tory attack is based on a clear understanding that organized labour – the trade unions – represent a major obstacle to the neoliberal project. They have no emotional commitment to democracy – witness their disgusting attitude to the Scottish voters, or to Greek voters for that matter. “Bollocks to elections, Yah! We don’t have to listen to the plebs.” but they do understand it poses a very real threat to their ability to maintain a grossly unequal, and unfair, society.
They are also aware that there is a growing mood of discontent throughout Britain, and that the trade union movement is allying itself with the social movements against austerity. The Peoples Assembly could not have got a quarter of a million people onto the streets of London without the support of the unions. Nor could the unions, on their own. But together, united, we can create a force that can sweep this scum back into the sewers.
This is what makes it so insulting that the Tories plan to trumpet these anti-democratic proposals at their October conference in Manchester. Manchester! The wellspring of the great Chartist movement. Birthplace of the cooperative movement. The city that buried the dead of Peterloo.
It is an insult to Manchester that the Tories should even hold a conference there, let alone one where they intend to brag about their plans to ‘put us in our place’.
The most effective immediate response to their disgusting anti-union attacks will be to make the Peoples Assembly/TUC demonstration in Manchester on Oct 4th absolutely massive, and to make the city a no-go area for Tories for the duration of the conference. Help build the coalition of resistance that the Tories fear – working class communities and organisations united in defending our class.
See you in Manchester on October 4th, and 5th, and 6th …
Richard Allday is a member of Unite the Union’s National Executive, a branch secretary and shop steward in road haulage. A member of Counterfire, his comrades know him better as 'the angry trucker'.
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