Labour Party Policy Forum proposal: repeal all anti-union laws

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Supporters of Free Our Unions active in the Labour Party and in Labour-affiliated unions have been promoting the below text as the basis for a submission to Labour’s ongoing Policy Forum policy submission process.

We encourage anyone who wants to see Labour take a strong stand against all anti-union legislation to adapt and use our text.

The process closes on 30 June. For more information, see here.

REPEAL ALL ANTI-UNION LAWS: FOR FREE TRADE UNIONS!

The Covid-19 crisis has reinforced why our party must campaign for repeal of all anti-trade nion laws – not just the 2016 Trade Union Act, but right back to the Thatcher government’s first one in 1980 – and their replacement with strong legal rights for workers and unions, including a strong and unrestricted right to strike.

Particularly faced with urgent issues like safety (but more generally too), we cannot and should not have to go through an elaborate and time-consuming process in order to take industrial action. We must insist that going on strike should be at least as easy as it was in 1979.

The anti-union laws – all of them, not just the 2016 Act – suppress the right to strike, suppress workers’ organisation, and prevent workers for standing up for their rights and for safety. While they remain, our movement is fighting with its hands tied behind its back.

We must begin by working with the unions to launch a stepped-up campaign to defeat the Tories’ proposed attack on transport workers and unions through the introduction of “minimum service” requirements, which involves abolishing even a residual right to strike for a huge swathe of workers.

Conference policy is very clear:

• Conference 2005 defied the Blair leadership to pass a motion calling for legalisation of solidarity action.
• Conference 2015 unanimously passed a motion calling for the next Labour government to “legislate for strong rights to unionise, win recognition and collective bargaining, strike, picket and take solidarity action”.
• Conference 2017 unanimously passed a motion calling for repeal of the 2016 Act and “anti-union laws introduced in the 1980s and 90s”; and a “strong legal charter of workers’ rights”. (It also said: “the most effective way to maintain good rights at work is collectively through a union. Strong unions, freed from legal shackles and bolstered by positive legal rights, will be key to tackling poverty, insecurity and inequality… For unions to be effective, workers need an effective right to strike…”)
• Conference 2018 overwhelmingly passed a motion calling for a “radical government” committed to “abolishing anti-union laws”.
• Conference 2019 overwhelmingly passed a motion calling for “repeal of all anti-union laws”, specifically mentioning the right to take strike action for political reasons: “so that workers can freely take action over the climate”.
• Conference 2019 also voted to reference back the part of the NPF report on this issue, on the basis that it was not strong enough on the right to strike and repealing the anti-union laws.

The following Eastern Region FBU policy elaborates the position we believe Labour should adopt and campaign for, based both on conference decisions and what is necessary and right:
• Complete and speedy repeal of all anti-union laws.
• Strong legal rights for workers to join, recruit to and be represented by a union; strike/take industrial action by a process, at a time and for demands of their own choosing, including in solidarity with any other workers and for broader social and political goals; and picket freely.
• The right to reinstatement for workers found to have been sacked unfairly. A complete ban on dismissal for industrial action, however long it lasts. Full rights from day one of a job.
• Strong rights for unions to access workplaces, win recognition, and establish collective bargaining, including sector-wide bargaining.
• Unions’ right to decide their own policies and activities, determine their own structures and rules, and spend their funds as they choose, free from state and employer interference, in line with ILO Conventions and the European Convention on Human Rights.

We would like to conclude by quoting from a pamphlet written by Bob Crow, then RMT Assistant General Secretary, and John Hendy QC (in 1998):

“In order for the unions to fulfil the purpose of maintaining and improving the conditions of their members’ working lives, unions have to have the legal freedom to operate. That means they must demand that the anti-union laws are repealed.

“No doubt the demand for repeal will draw contempt, criticism and scare stories from the press. But the arguments in favour of repeal and replacement are formidable and irrefutable. Furthermore, the movement has its own culture, history, images and analysis which are as persuasive as anything the media can create.

“More importantly still, if the movement does not go on the offensive with its ideas and vision, there is left a void which is filled only by the ideas and vision of its enemies.”

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