“This is Labour’s absolute duty” – speech to Eastern Region Labour conference on repealing the anti-union laws

Riccardo la Torre is Eastern Region Fire Brigades Union Secretary and an organiser for Free Our Unions. For the motion he was proposing, which the conference passed unanimously, see here.

Since the 1980s successive Tory governments have been introducing anti-worker and anti-union legislation that is nothing less than a foot on the throat of every worker, in every workplace in this country. I also won’t shy away from the Blair government’s failure to remove what he once described as “The most restrictive union laws in the western world”.

This allowed following Tory governments to double up on their previous efforts and these draconian laws, introducing yet more restrictions on workers’ rights to unionise and defend ourselves – by way of the 2016 Trade Union Act, further undermining workers’ ability to organise and campaign. Conference, the existence of these laws mean our movement is fighting the challenges of low pay, insecurity, poverty and erosion of hard-won terms, conditions and safety with our hands tied behind our backs!

The restrictions these laws place on workers are perverse comrades. They dictate to us how we can organise, pay our subs, spend our money, vote in our ballots – when, where and how we can take action and stand on pickets – how and when we tell the bosses we are striking and even for what reasons we are allowed to do it! Be in no doubt, these laws are made for the bosses by the bosses, and any Labour party that represents workers should be leading the way in demanding they be repealed.

These laws prevent my members and comrades, firefighters and control staff, from effectively fighting the worst cuts to our service, pay and conditions in a lifetime. They stop us from lawfully collectively refusing to accept cost-cutting policies and practices we know to be dangerous, putting the lives of firefighters and the public at risk, if we don’t first jump through the obstacles and hoops laid out by these laws.

They hindered how we challenged a government that unlawfully stole our pensions, and they shackle us in our campaigns to stop the destruction, casualization and deregulation of our life-saving service that leads to tragedies such as Grenfell.

We are about to hear of the disgraceful injunction to stop over 86k CWU postal workers striking, 97.1% of whom voted YES to Strike to protect their livelihoods. Where is the democracy in that?

In summer 2018 more than 50,000 civil servants voted yes to strike to defend pay & pensions, only 8000 voted no, But because it didn’t hit the thresholds the lawful strike couldn’t go ahead. Tell me conference, what minister making these laws can boast that type of mandate to even be doing their job? The perverse thing is, if 12k more had voted, and all voted no, the strike could have gone ahead!

Conference, our trade unionists are the firefighters who pull us from our fires, floods and car accidents, the teachers that educate our children, the refuse workers who process & collect our waste, the nurses and doctors keeping our families healthy, the paramedics who come to us in our time of need, the train drivers getting us to work, the postal workers keeping the country connected and many, many more – and our livelihoods, conditions, pay and safety are being attacked like never before.

The Tory Government refuses to allow us to defend ourselves, they choose to stand with bosses over workers, so it is the absolute duty of the Labour party to be the voice of workers in the political arena, refuse to repeat the mistakes of New Labour on trade union rights and in line with democratic conference policy publically campaign to repeal all anti-trade union laws – not just 2016 Act, but all laws – and replace them with strong rights. Conference, please support the motion, I move.

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