Trade Union bill is ‘an attack on all working people’

By Ian Hodson, President, BFAWU

The Tories’ latest attacks on Trade Unions are about as vindictive and nasty as they could possibly get, and go further than even Thatcher would have dared.

The Trade Union Bill is designed in such a way as to allow the government to drive people into a further downward spiral of poor wages and job insecurity, whilst removing the employment rights that provide the necessary mechanisms to challenge and fight back against any injustice in the workplace.

Changing the rules regarding ballot turnout, whilst retaining postal only ballots will make any strike action virtually impossible. When you consider that this is being introduced by a government running the country on 24% of the general election vote and championed by ministers who wouldn’t have been elected had they been subject to the same rules, this is hypocrisy on a monumental scale.

In many ways, unions demonstrate the purest form of democracy, transparency and accountability. By offering their members the opportunity to take part in various ballots and elections, unions are able to provide a collective response that enables workers to improve their wages and conditions at work in order to have a share in the wealth their labour creates.

They also use democratic measures to elect their own representatives and shape their respective union’s policies via annual conferences. In addition to that, they also have the right to choose whether or not their contributions are used for political or campaigning purposes.

Contrary to what people may think, unionised workplaces are generally safer, more productive, more efficient and more profitable with better trained/skilled workforces and lower staff turnover. If that wasn’t enough, pay is up to 25% higher than in non-unionised workplaces and they tend to have better holiday entitlement and superior long service benefits.

Unfortunately, the Tory mentality is pre-programmed to view this as a bad thing, no matter how many facts, figures and statistics you offer them to prove otherwise. They believe that the balance of power in any workplace should be squarely in favour of the employer, irrespective of how unscrupulous or exploitative they may be.

This Conservative government of hypocritical sociopaths has not once sought to gauge opinion from any other group or demographic outside their wealthy, capitalist chums who donate millions to their political machine.

They label union leaders as ‘barons’ and ‘bullies’ when in actual fact the barons and bullies are more often found in big business and banking sectors, not to mention their friends in the media who continue to roll out the kind of deliberate misinformation and propaganda that would make even Goebbels blush.

It isn’t Trade Union leaders that slash workers pay or conditions and it isn’t Trade Union leaders that throw people on the dole. Trade Unions and their leaders are in the business of ensuring fair pay and fair play for workers in a safe working environment, whilst safeguarding jobs.

If you look at any major milestone and achievement throughout history in the world of work and social justice, you will find the influence of Trade Unions. Indeed, had it not been for the work of the BFAWU, bakery workers would still be toiling away in poorly vented cellars, lined with asbestos.

It’s amazing therefore, that unions, their members and leaders are viewed with such negativity, given the role they have played and continue to play in our society. It's no coincidence then, that the anti-union legislation brought in over the years has had an adverse effect on society as a whole.

Falling Trade Union membership has had a negative impact on collective bargaining, that has subsequently led to low pay and exploitation within the labour market, with the deck well and truly stacked in the employers’ favour. As a result of this inequality, we have now seen a rise in the number of billionaires and an unfair redistribution of wealth, not seen since the Victorian era.

We see wages at such a low level that the taxpayer has to top up low incomes via tax credits, the same tax credits that the government now wants to limit, if not remove altogether.

The fact that the taxpayer is subsidising the profits of big, often tax-avoiding companies and the huge pay packets of company CEOs, should be treated as one of the major scandals and injustices of our times.

I may be in a minority here, but I’d like to see my taxes being used to fund our health service, schools, affordable housing and the public services we need in order to get on with our daily lives, whilst providing a financial safety net for those who fall on hard times through no fault of their own.

Yet somehow, thanks in no small part to a well-trained media, who are in on the conspiracy, the general public are distracted by the poverty porn TV shows that vomit into the nation’s living rooms and are brainwashed into demonising the unemployed instead.

Once suitably conditioned to blame everybody else except those responsible for their diminishing living standards, the proles then allow themselves to be saturated with celebrity-obsessed banality, in order to keep them passive and apathetic.

Since 2010, we’ve seen a relentless attack on the young, the sick, the disabled and the unemployed. Full-time, reasonably paid jobs have been replaced by cheap labour and food manufacturing has become so in thrall and so reliant on the custom of unregulated supermarkets, that companies have engaged in a race to the bottom in order to secure or retain even the smallest of contracts. Inevitably, this means a cheaper, lower-skilled workforce.

However, rather than address the skyrocketing pay of company bosses, industrial scale corporate tax-avoidance, unscrupulous managers, exploitative employment agencies and the crippling effect of supermarket monopoly, the government turns its fire on Trade Unions and seeks to regulate them out of all existence.

The Trade Union bill isn’t just an attack on unions; it’s an attack on all working people, as it further reduces the rights of everyone in the workplace. Without unions, pay will deteriorate further, safety conditions will be abysmal and we will be back to the world of Robert Tressell’s ‘Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’. Surely, in the name of all faiths, this cannot go unopposed.

The entire working population of the UK needs to be aware of what this government’s real aims are, and respond accordingly. We must be prepared to fight, or suffer the consequences.

The future of our children, and our children’s children depends on how we, as a Labour Movement react to this. The TUC’s response cannot simply be more soundbites, more rallies and more marches around London.

We’ve done more marches than the Grand Old Duke of York since 2010 and achieved precisely nothing. It’s time to rekindle the spirit of our forefathers and be prepared to cross the line if necessary, rather than continue with the spineless lack of direct action.

The Trade Union Movement may be smaller than it was, but it’s still over six-million strong and a virtually unstoppable unit if mobilised. The government know that, which is why they seek to demoralise and hamstring us.

It’s time to use the collective strength that we possess and turn the tables. Waiting around for a Labour government will not save us and taking a kicking day in and day out should not be an option.

It’s time we started doing some kicking of our own, and by that I mean make the call for a general strike; because I’ll guarantee you that we’ll pay the penalty if we don’t.