Bob Crow was General Secretary of the RMT rail and transport union when he died five years ago, in March 2014. In 1998 Crow, then RMT Assistant General Secretary, co-wrote a pamphlet with industrial relations barrister John Hendy QC called Reclaim Our Rights – Repeal the Anti-Union Laws. (For Hendy’s more recent role, see here.)
The pamphlet, no longer widely available, is attached below as a PDF. It is well worth a read, full of strong arguments and political lessons for today, as well as explaining very clearly and concisely what the anti-union laws are and what they have meant. It poses a challenge to the Labour left and to a Corbyn government.
In the introduction, Crow and Hendy conclude:
“The first task of the trade union and labour movement is to reveal the truth about these laws…
“In order for the unions to fulfil the purpose of maintaining and improving the conditions of their members’ working lives, unions have to have the legal freedom to operate. That means they must demand that the anti-union laws are repealed.
“No doubt the demand for repeal will draw contempt, criticism and scare stories from the press. But the arguments in favour of repeal and replacement are formidable and irrefutable. Furthermore, the movement has its own culture, history, images and analysis which are as persuasive as anything the media can create.
“More importantly still, if the movement does not go on the offensive with its ideas and vision, there is left a void which is filled only by the ideas and vision of its enemies.
“The demand for replacement of the anti-union laws must be pressed whether or not it is approved of by Mr Murdoch and his media empire which has such a formidable influence on Mr Blair. There is no reason for the labour movement to feel that it should not make demands of the Labour Government. That is its job!
“The labour movement should pursue a campaign for repeal and replacement with enthusiasm and energy. The movement has faced worse laws before and overturned them. Those familiar with labour history will know of the incredible achievements of getting the Trades Disputes Act 1906 [which established the legal immunities for strikes and industrial action largely destroyed in the 1980s] onto the statute book and getting the Industrial Relations Act 1971 [a test run for Thatcher’s anti-union laws] off it…
“The task is to commit the entire trade union and labour movement… to these goals…”