Last week the Committee Stage of the Tories’ Trade Union Bill drew to a close. Our Labour team listened as Tory Minister Nick Boles tried to present the Bill as an altruistic attempt to help modernise trade union practices.
Well I’m afraid Nick, it didn’t work.
This Bill is the greatest attack on working people in 30 years. I know that, trade union members know that and so Nick – do you. At every single session where we scrutinised the Bill, we ripped the Bill apart, line by line.
As has been well-publicised by now, the contents of the bill are an assault against democracy and trade union freedoms but perhaps the most significant thing about the proposed legislation is that, above all, it is a political choice. The Tories have chosen to push this draconian bill, which has not only sent shivers down the spines of trade unionists across the country, but has also caused a plethora of human rights organisations, including Amnesty UK and Liberty, to speak out against it.
Trade union members have the same human rights as every other individual in this country. Those rights are not weakened when they put a union card in their purse or pocket.
But with this Bill, the Tories are creating a two tier rights and civil liberties framework. And they call themselves the party of working people? Their sole aim is to undermine the largest democratic grassroots organisations in the country. And why? Because trade unions have a proud history of exposing Tory policies for what they really are.
When the Tories, backed by the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government, sold Royal Mail off on the cheap to their mates, privatising a national asset for a measly profit – it was trade unionists who spoke up.
When Jeremy Hunt attacked junior doctors, saying that some may see their pay fall, it was trade unions who took to the streets, organising protests across the country in solidarity.
And, more recently, in the midst of the steel crisis, it was trade unionists who stood up for the thousands of people who are losing their jobs because of the Tory government’s complete failure to protect our steel industry.
This is what the Tories want to put an end to with the Trade Union Bill. This is the Gagging Act – Part Two.
And these aren’t the only examples of the Tories trying to usurp democracy to weaken influential voices of opposition. We’ve even seen another example in the last week. Following Osborne’s embarrassing defeat in the House of Lords as peers voted to delay harsh Tory plans to reduce tax credits for working people by three years, Cameron’s response was not to accept the concerns raised by the second Chamber – and the general public more widely – but was instead to question the legitimacy of the House of Lords by swiftly announcing that there would be a rapid review of how the ability of elected governments to secure their business in Parliament could be protected.
We cannot let them get away with this. Our democratic rights have been hard fought and hard won and the Labour Party, alongside the trade union movement, will fight to protect them at all costs. The Government may have numbers on their side, having won a very slim majority at the last election, but we have people power on our side and the desperate actions by Tories show that this is something that they – and we – will never underestimate.