Free our unions! Statement for labour movement organisations

At Labour Party conference 2017, delegates voted unanimously for a motion to repeal not just the 2016 Trade Union Act but the anti-trade union laws introduced by the Tories in the 1980s and 90s – and to introduce positive legal workers’ rights. (For more, including the text the conference passed, see here). However the party is not yet fighting for these policies. The task is to get them known and actively carried out.

The following statement, initiated by Lambeth Unison, has been passed by a range of union organisations, from local branches to national unions, and is being circulated throughout the movement. Please put the statement to your organisation, Labour-affiliated or not (or in your Labour Party). A model motion for proposing this is included below. If you pass it please also circulate to other branches, trades councils, etc. If you’ve passed it or for more information email

This statement is the basis of the wider Free Our Unions campaign – for more information about Free Our Unions, campaign resources, etc, see here.


** See at bottom of page a model motion to use for proposing support for the Free Our Unions statement at union branches, etc. For both statement and motion as a PDF, see here.
(For a version of the motion for CLPs, see here) **


We need abolition of the anti-trade union laws, which hamstring workers organising and taking action, and their replacement with strong legal workers’ rights. Otherwise we are fighting the challenges of low pay, insecurity and lack of rights with our hands tied behind our backs.

We applaud the 2017 Labour Party conference’s unanimous call for repeal of not just the 2016 Trade Union Act, but also the “anti-union laws introduced in the 1980s and 90s” by the Tories and maintained after 1997; and for a “strong legal charter of workers’ rights”. “For unions to be effective workers need an effective right to strike”. This builds on the unanimous 2015 decision that the next Labour government should “legislate for strong rights to unionise, win recognition and collective bargaining, strike, picket and take solidarity action”.

We will campaign for:

• Complete and speedy repeal of all anti-union laws.
• Strong legal rights for workers to join, recruit to and be represented by a union; strike/take industrial action by a process, at a time and for demands of their own choosing, including in solidarity with any other workers and for broader social and political goals; and picket freely.
• The right to reinstatement for workers found to have been sacked unfairly. A complete ban on dismissal for industrial action, however long it lasts. Full rights from day one of a job.
• Strong rights for unions to access workplaces, win recognition, and establish collective bargaining, including sector-wide bargaining.
• Unions’ right to decide their own policies and activities, determine their own structures and rules, and spend their funds as they choose, free from state and employer interference, in line with ILO Conventions and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Supported by



National unions above. Full list of signatories in order of endorsement:

Lambeth Local Government Unison
Unite Community and Not for Profit Youth Workers NW
Unite Community SE London
Unite Loretto Care Glasgow
GMB London Central General
Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB)
Hackney Picturehouse BECTU (Prospect) branch
Croydon NEU
PCS DWP East London
RMT Bakerloo Line
RMT London Transport Regional Council
CWU Greater London Combined
Southwark NEU
Lewisham NEU
RMT East Ham
Unite Central London Voluntary
PCS DWP Sheffield
Exeter UCU
Barnet Local Government Unison
Hillingdon Local Government Unison
Unite GPM National Publishing & Media
East Midlands Central RMT
Lewisham Trades Council
London-wide PCS DWP branch reps meeting
Hastings & District Trades Union Council
Northampton NEU
Nottingham Unite Community
London Underground Engineering RMT
Notts Trades Council
Finsbury Park RMT
Cambridge UCU
Newcastle City Unison
Piccadilly & District Line West RMT
Lewisham Southwark College UCU
Leeds NEU
Lambeth Trades Council
West Midlands Region Fire Brigades Union
Nottingham ASLEF
Greater Manchester FBU
Eastern Region FBU
Suffolk FBU
Bedfordshire FBU
Norfolk FBU
Hertfordshire FBU
Woburn branch FBU
Essex control branch FBU
Essex FBU
Basildon branch FBU
Wakefield Local Government Unison
North West Region FBU
Barnet Trades Council
RMT Waltham Cross and District
PCS DWP London Headquarters
London Region FBU
Sheffield NEU
Cambridgeshire FBU
PCS Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government HQ branch
Fire Brigades Union (national)
Ipswich Trades Council
National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT)
East Midlands Region FBU
Unite Health Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital

The vast majority of the statement was also included in the policy on trade union rights passed by the 2018 Unite the Union national policy conference – see here. And in the policy passed at Unison national Labour Link conference 2019.

Also supported by:

Croydon North CLP
Hackney South and Shoreditch CLP
Finchley and Golders Green CLP
Chipping Barnet CLP
Newark CLP
Brighton Pavilion CLP
Shipley CLP
Lewisham Deptford CLP

PCS Independent Left
Labour Representation Committee
Green Party of England and Wales


Model/adaptable motion to propose statement to your branch. For both the motion and the statement as a PDF see here.
(For a model motion for Labour Parties, see here)

Free our unions – repeal the anti-union laws

1. The increasing number of trade union struggles scuppered by the anti-trade union laws, including recent national ballots over pay by PCS and UCU.
2. That the anti-union laws – not just the 2016 Trade Union Act, but multiple laws going back to 1980 – continually undermine workers’ ability to organise and campaign. They mean our movement is fighting challenges of low pay, insecurity and lack of rights with our hands tied behind our backs.

Further notes
1. That Labour Party conference 2017 conference voted unanimously to “repeal the Trade Union Act, but also anti-union laws introduced in the 1980s and 90s”. Labour conference 2015 voted unanimously for the introduction of strong workers’ rights including “strong rights to… strike, picket and take solidarity action”. The 2018 conference voted for the next Labour government to “abolish anti-union laws”.
2. That these policies have not yet fed through into the party’s campaigning. The emphasis on promoting collective bargaining is welcome, but “collective bargaining without the right to strike is collective begging” (Institute of Employment Rights).
3. The Free Our Unions campaign and statement endorsing and elaborating the Labour conference policy and calling for it be put into action – initiated by Lambeth Unison and The Clarion and now supported by union organisations across the country, including the national unions FBU, RMT and IWGB.

1. To sign the Free Our Unions statement and support the campaign.
2. To circulate the statement, this motion and information about the campaign and its importance, with links, etc, to members.
3. To invite a speaker from the campaign.
4. To buy copies of the Free Our Unions pamphlet to distribute.
5. To circulate the statement as widely as possible to other branches and sections of the union, and to nearby branches, trades councils [and, as appropriate, Labour Parties], etc, asking for support.
6. To organise a photo supporting repeal of the anti-union laws and the right to strike at an upcoming meeting.
7. To write to Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell about this.


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