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The TUC’s #HeartUnions week: defending the right to strike

by Frances O’Grady

The TUC's #HeartUnions week: defending the right to strike

Trade union rights are under attack in the United Kingdom, but unions here won’t give up without a fight. Working people need us too much.

This week, we will be running a high profile campaign to showcase the amazing work unions do, and to show why unions should not be shackled by new legislation.

One of the first things the Conservative government elected last May did was to announce new restrictions on trade unions and our activity.

The Trade Union Bill threatens the fundamental right to strike and imposes huge new burdens on unions. It’s part of a worldwide assault on the right to strike, prosecuted by employers’ organisations at the International Labour Organization (ILO), and by numerous governments.

The government has tried to present the bill as something which only relates to increasing turnouts during strike ballots. But we know their true agenda: they want to shift the balance of power in the workplace in favour of employers by threatening the right to strike and organise together.

And the thresholds they are proposing will make it virtually impossible for public sector workers to organise national strikes.

The workers who will be most affected are low-paid women workers defending public services.

If the government really wanted to increase turnouts, they would not have consistently refused to allow trade unions to use electronic balloting, despite its widespread use in all sorts of other votes – including the selection of the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.

One of their proposals is to lift the ban on using agency workers during strikes. For the first time since the 1970s, bosses will be able to bus in agency temps to break a strike.

This fundamentally undermines the right to strike, and it will make it much more difficult to settle disputes – which is probably why so few employers have come forward to support the idea. And it could mean workers without proper training and proper support delivering important services that we all rely on. That’s not sensible – and it’s not safe.

 

Deliberate attack

The bill massively extends the red tape surrounding trade unionism, and the power of the government to interfere in our operations.

In a deliberate attack on union funding, the bill will prohibit employers in the public sector from deducting union subs from people’s wages, regardless of even written instructions from our members. And it extends the power for the government Certification Officer to investigate union operations, whether any member has complained or not.

The government wants to bring in these changes as quickly and with as little scrutiny as possible. We haven’t allowed them to.

All through the autumn, the UK’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) and our member unions have been fighting the bill, and this week will see the beginning of detailed consideration of the bill in the UK second chamber, the House of Lords.

We will keep the bill in the public eye and to remind politicians why unions are so important.

From 8-14 February the TUC will run a special week of action against the trade union bill throughout England and Wales, to showcase the amazing work unions do and demonstrate why we must oppose the bill. Full information about the week of action can be found at www.heartunions.org

We’re going to show the government that threatening trade unions has no place in a modern democracy. Only through coming together and showing our united strength will we be able defend the right to strike and organise together.

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