By Alexis Green
The Covid-19 crisis has been a stark reminder of how important it is for workers to have the ability to take industrial action unimpeded by legal restrictions and bureaucratic hurdles. The Black Lives Matter struggle and the struggle against climate chaos highlight the need for workers to be able to take action over political issues, and not only immediate terms and conditions and workplace issues.
Since 2015 Labour Party conference has voted six times for variants of a clear policy to repeal all anti-trade union laws and replace them with a strong legal right to strike:
1. Conference 2015 unanimously passed a motion calling for the next Labour government to “legislate for strong rights to unionise, win recognition and collective bargaining, strike, picket and take solidarity action”.
2. Conference 2017 unanimously passed a motion calling for repeal of the 2016 Act and “anti-union laws introduced in the 1980s and 90s”; and a “strong legal charter of workers’ rights”. (It also said: “the most effective way to maintain good rights at work is collectively through a union. Strong unions, freed from legal shackles and bolstered by positive legal rights, will be key to tackling poverty, insecurity and inequality… For unions to be effective, workers need an effective right to strike…”)
3. Conference 2018 overwhelmingly passed a motion calling for a “radical government” committed to “abolishing anti-union laws”.
4. Conference 2019 overwhelmingly passed a motion calling for “repeal of all anti-union laws”, specifically mentioning the right to take strike action for political reasons: “so that workers can freely take action over the climate”.
5. And in fact it voted for this wording twice, in two different motions (both on the Green New Deal).
6. Conference 2019 also voted to reference back the part of the National Policy Forum report on this issue, on the basis that it was not strong enough on the right to strike and repealing the anti-union laws. The motivation said: “This is inadequate. The 2017 Conference unanimously passed a policy repealing the anti-trade union laws implemented by the Conservative governments in the 1980s and also the 2016 Trade Union Act… The policy document should reflect Labour Party policy”.
For the motions passed, see here. Additionally, polling says this is a stance Labour members support by a margin of 5-1. TUC Congress also unanimously passed clear policy on this last year.
Unfortunately the party under Corbyn did not campaign for this policy, until the 2019 manifesto which represented some progress. Now Keir Starmer is back to just saying “Repeal the Trade Union Act” (ie the most recent of a dozen anti-trade union/anti-strike laws).
We need to renew campaigning to push Labour into taking a strong and clear position, reflecting conference policy.
• One thing you can do to start: if you’re a Labour member, please vote for and comment in support on this submission to the party’s National Policy Forum produced by the Free Our Unions campaign (there seems to be a glitch for some, so if you can’t vote, just leave a supporting comment). The deadline to do so is 20 July.