Unshackle our unions

logoEditorial in the Morning Star 24th March 

Media moguls’ outrage at the prospect of statutory oversight of the press stands in stark contrast to their notable silence on the biggest undemocratic disgrace of our time – Thatcher’s anti-trade union laws.

Saturday’s launch of the united Campaign for Trade Union Freedom was a crucial rallying point in the face of the crude “austerity” that provides cover, as transport union TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes put it on the day, for an unrelenting “government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.”

The link is clear between the shackling of unions, the removal of millions from collective bargaining, and the plummeting conditions of the majority while a tiny wealthy elite has grown fat on the fruits of our labour.

Media outlets long collaborated to portray trade unions as something outdated or redundant in an era of “benevolent” employers and “partnership.”

This depiction looks increasingly ludicrous in this savage era of so-called austerity, where Tories and their allies are so emboldened, feel so invulnerable, that they are taking a wrecking ball to every advance society has made over the past century.

They may call trade unionists dinosaurs, but it is the right-wing free-market ideologues who seek to bring back policies for their personal enrichment that are as old as civilisation itself.

If the story of humanity is one of broad advance, at every step of the way right-wing political dinosaurs of their ilk have sought to stem each tentative step forward.

From decent wages to holidays and sick pay – all were the result of campaigns driven by working people united as organised labour.

Now just two in every 10 of us has the protection of union negotiators.

The rest are being picked off one by one by employers who can operate with impunity.

There are laws that require trade unions to leap through ridiculous and often impossible legal hoops when members vote to strike, laws that ban people from withdrawing their labour on an issue not directly connected to their employment, or action to help those unable to help themselves.

But why should the state be allowed a hand in over-riding the collective decisions of supposedly free individuals in a supposedly democratic country?

There is no justification aside from the further enrichment of the already engorged.

There is, however, clear evidence that these laws’ continued existence is dragging down the conditions of the vast majority of our population.

On Saturday NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney recalled his own experience of an unlawful strike that conveys the kind of practical steps that we in theory cannot take.

When a local hospital was threatened with closure the teachers at a nearby school struck.

They walked out because the children at the school would be put at risk by plans to axe the hospital.

On the same march were the pupils and parents from the area who also saw the dangers that the plans meant to them.

As the NHS in England is brought to its knees, as rights and jobs and communities are attacked left, right and centre, the glaring gap in our possible responses is the kind of united action that will truly see the right quaking in their boots.

Our strategy is clear.

We must support the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom and its call to raise the issue within workplaces and communities.

And Labour must be held to account to ensure it remedies one of the most disgraceful failures of that dinosaur Blair – the deep collaboration with business against the interests of its own supporters.

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