Kill the Trade Union Bill!

The Tory government’s “Trade Union Bill” is an outright assault on organised labour. The Bill has nothing to do with trade union democracy. The aim is to clear out the potential opposition to the deregulation and casualisation of work. In the piece below Kevin Halpin gives a brief account of his experiences. A new party pamphlet “The Trade Union Bill and How to Kill It” is available from the main party shop.

Action can defeat anti trade-union legislation and defend our freedom and democracy.

It’s a fight that must be waged and which, in my experience, can be won – it’s not going to be easy, but then it never was. We have a massive advantage this time round, unlike the early 1970s the leadership of the movement – including the TUC -have made clear their outright opposition to the Tories Trade Union Bill and are prepared to fight to the death. So, thankfully it’s not longer the case that Congress House will call on the local police to move trade union members lobbying outside for ‘disturbing the peace’, as happened to me on more than one occasion.

Over the past 35 years blood- chilling references to the ‘bad old days’ of the 1970s have been used by new Labour and old Tories to warn of the dangers of unions that are ‘too strong’. But what was the reality? Certainly, unions were never strong enough (even if they had wanted to be) to sack a single employer, let alone thousands of people at once; or to sell off or shut down a company without warning; or to issue a death sentence to a whole local community. The impression given of the ‘70s is that mass meetings were held every day, taking instant (‘wild cat’) action at the instigation of a small number of union agitators.

As one who was there, and others will confirm this, I can tell you that this picture is nonsense. Just as frequently, mass meetings voted against action. When workers came out, it was usually because they were fed up with being treated like machines, to be speeded up and driven to the limit, or as casual labour to be picked up and discarded at will.

There are three particular features of the current bill. It singles out public sector trade unionis in order to weaken their fight in defence of services, jobs and pay. It seeks to undermine collective bargaining, and is intent on silencing the political voice of the organised working class (building onlast year’s ‘gagging’ laws).

Leading trade union lawyers Keith Ewing and John Hendy QC have said that these measures will not be defeated in court rooms or lecture theatres but in political and industrial arenas. I couldn’t agree more! Onwards and upwards.

Kevin Halpin, formerly industrial organiser of the Communist Party, was founding chairperson of the rank- and-file Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trades Unions (now merged into the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom). His role was pivotal in defending the rights of workers from both Labour and Conservative governments. After his victimisation by Ford after 14 years as an AEU convenor, he was clearly on the engineering employers ‘blacklist’ being turned down for for work by 48 companies in three years, at which time the manager of the Dagenham Labour Exchange, convincedthat he’d never get back into engineering, suggested he retrain as a hairdresser. An offer he refused and thanks to union colleagues, found work in London’s ship-repair yards until (under Thatcher’s de-industrialisation) the docks closed when he went on to London Underground becoming chair and convenor of the joint trades unions committee.

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