Len McCluskey’s Blog: We Must Win The Fight For Trade Union Freedom

Len-McCluskey-007-300x180By Len McCluskey, General Secretary, Unite

The fight for trade union freedoms, our legal right to represent our members has gone on for too long. It is fight we must win urgently. It should be a matter of great shame that in 21st Century Britain ordinary working people can have such basic rights withheld from them.

For more than three decades trade union freedoms have been cut away and curtailed. The legacy of the Thatcher government – its unrelenting attack on the lives of ordinary workers and their families – has lingered on into the 21st Century.

Organised Labour, our most effective tool for working people to achieve social change and improvements now faces legal restrictions that apply to no other organisations in our society. At the same time as successive governments have shackled trade unions, they have been deregulating and setting-free corporations and the markets to wreak havoc.

We now know that this growing imbalance has been bad for society and bad for the economy, causing the greatest economic crash of all time. Successive governments have been determined to silence the voice of ordinary workers.

Tragically, the Labour Party, the Party our forefathers and foremothers created to be the voice of organised labour, failed to ditch one single restriction on trade unions introduced by the Tories.  Worse still Tony Blair boasted that his government would “leave British law the most restrictive on trade unions in the Western world”.

The result of this shameful collusion between our political elites has been:

  • an ever growing gap between rich and poor,
  • a dramatic decline in the wealth that goes into the pockets of working people
  • and capitalism brought to its knees by neo-liberalism left unchallenged and unchecked.

The fall in collective bargaining agreements nationally and across sectors has been a key factor in increasing inequality.

The International Labour Organisation says countries with strong support for collective bargaining have a significantly smaller wage gap between those at the top and those at the bottom.  And yet the past three decades have been characterised by rising inequality and a low wage economy.

Between 1975 and 2013 – the share of our national income used to pay the wages of ordinary people fell from 65% to 53%. The number of UK workers covered by collective bargaining is now 23%.

Put simply, more money was being sliced off the top  – hidden away in financial black holes. The consensus that companies and corporations should operate without any interference from government – whilst the strong arm of the law impedes on the freedom of workers to organise – should be dead in the water. But it is not.

We now face a government more ideological, more aggressive, more arrogant. A Prime Minister and Chancellor willing to use the global financial crash as an excuse for tearing apart everything we hold dear – the NHS, our welfare state, our public services.

The things we built over generations – they are selling off in a matter of months and years. Their answer to a crisis caused by an unregulated, unscrupulous City full of fat cat bankers and traders is to cut taxes for the rich whilst attacking the employment rights of the low paid and vulnerable.

Thirteen years of Labour standing still on trade union rights has led the way for the Tory led Coalition restart their attack on employment rights just where they left off and we are moving backwards once again.

And the arrogance with which this government behaves can leave no one in any doubt about the magnitude of the attack we now face. Putting venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft, who heads Wonga.com, in charge of employment rights was like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank.

And renewing the push for a low wage, low growth, flexibility economy is a one-sided agenda directly in the interests of employers.

Increased insecurity in the workplace and bad bosses allowed to do as they please. For the political elite, insecurity at work is not a problem. For the Tories, it’s not even unfortunate. It’s their aim.

The trouble is there is not one shred of evidence supporting their ideas. We have already seen Redundancy Notice cut in half 90 days to 45 – the tip of the iceberg if the Coalition gets its way. They are pushing ahead with the discredited ‘shares for rights scheme’, which employment lawyers and employers say won’t work.

Only the Coalition could tell you that you can create jobs by making employment more insecure and letting bosses sack at will. It is the politics of the madhouse.

Our evidence tells us that economies and industries with employment protections and a regulated market have stronger and more sustainable economies: Higher employment and a more equal society.

Government can only carry out these attacks whilst organised labour – the voice of working people – are shackled and bound. That is why I and Unite supports the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom launched last weekend.

To fight against the legal assault which has held us back for a generation – and to fight for positive rights for our members.

  •  We want a level playing field with the rest of Europe.
  •  The right to organise, strike and take solidarity action are our fundamental tools.
  • Without these we cannot win what is rightly fair for our members – a proper slice of the wealth that they create.

Throughout our history it is only through organised labour that workers have won basic rights or improved conditions and pay.  We have been fighting for our trade union freedoms for too long and now it is time to win them back.

Trade unions have been a force for good in our society. From the abolition of child labour, the suffragettes’ movement for women’s votes, the fight against fascism, the creation of the welfare state and the National Health Service. The establishment of equal pay legislation, the minimum wage, right through to maternity and paternity rights, these are achievements only obtained through protest, civil disobedience and organised labour.

On each of these issues the trade unions were on the side of the angels. Only by winning back our freedoms can we win a fair settlement for working people.

This entry was posted in Campaign For Trade Union Freedom News, European Employment Rights, International Employment Rights, UK Employment Rights. Bookmark the permalink.

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