The Labour leadership is making a series of policy announcements about workers’ rights, coming out of the “Workplace Power” review overseen by Deputy Leader Angela Rayner and Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights Andy MacDonald.
On Twitter, in response to a question from Momentum, and in an article on LabourList, MacDonald said that “Labour is committed to repealing anti-trade union laws”.
This is welcome as far as it goes, but what exactly it means remains to be seen.
The whole Labour Party, including its leadership, should recognise, argue and campaign for the policies on this agreed by Labour Party conference. This is something we advocate both for reasons of labour movement democracy and because the policies agreed by Labour conference are clear and strong.
What are they?
Labour conference policy
• The 2015 conference voted unanimously that “Workers’ rights, including the right to strike, are essential to the labour movement’s ability to stand up for workers’ interests, and democracy”. And that a Labour government should “introduce a comprehensive package of employment rights compliant with ILO core conventions and European human rights obligations… legislate for strong rights to unionise, win recognition and collective bargaining, strike, picket and take solidarity action”.
• The 2017 conference voted unanimously that “Strong unions, freed from legal shackles and bolstered by positive legal rights, will be key to tackling poverty, insecurity and inequality, transforming society and creating an economy that works for the many, not the few. For unions to be effective, workers need an effective right to strike”. And therefore to: “Repeal the TU Act and anti-union laws introduced in the 1980s and 90s” (ie under the Thatcher and Major Tory governments).
• The 2018 conference voted overwhelmingly that “Labour will form a radical government; taxing the rich to fund better public services, expanding common ownership, abolishing anti-union laws and engaging in massive public investment”.
• The last Labour Party conference, in 2019, voted overwhelmingly twice (in two separate motions) that “in power Labour will… repeal all anti-union laws, facilitating worker-led activism over social and political issues, including climate change.” To make itself even clearer, the same conference also voted by a clear majority to reference back part of the National Policy Forum’s “Economy Business and Trade” report dealing with these issues, with the following written explanation: “This is inadequate. The 2017 Conference unanimously passed a policy repealing the anti-trade union laws implemented by the Conservative governments in the 1980s and also the 2016 Trade Union Act… This has so far not been widely reported or noticed. The policy document should reflect Labour Party policy and state clearly the importance of introducing strong legal rights to join, belong and recruit others to a union, to strike and to picket freely including in solidarity with other workers”.
TUC Congress policy
The Labour leadership should also take on board the policy passed by TUC Congress 2019 (in addition to those passed by many individual unions):
“Congress welcomes recent Labour Party conference policy (2015, 2017, 2018) to repeal all anti-union laws and replace them with strong legal rights for workers and unions, including rights to strike and picket.
“Congress believes it is crucial the next Labour government acts quickly to implement this policy.
“Congress believes workers need strong rights to join, recruit to and be represented by an independent 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…
“Congress welcomes Labour’s commitment to reviving collective bargaining but believes that – to quote the Institute of Employment Rights – “collective bargaining without the right to strike is collective begging”.”