A FLAGSHIP PIECE OF TORY LEGISLATION, the Trade Union Bill, has entered choppy waters in the House of Lords. Fearing defeat on a number of peers’ amendments to the Bill, Tory business minister Nick Boles sent a lengthy memo (since leaked) on 26 January suggesting the government would be prepared to climb down on:
» Extension of the notice period for industrial action to two weeks;
» The compulsion on picket line organisers to wear armbands, and
» The continued operation of ‘check off’ for the collection of union subs in Scotland and Wales.
The memo reveals that the Tories fear a more fundamental defeat on the Bill’s critical element – raising thresholds for turnouts in strike ballots. This measure was explicitly devised to make lawful industrial action nearly impossible across much of the public sector. In response to calls from the TUC to enable online balloting, the government now appears ready to concede ‘a review’, albeit without any timetable for an eventual report.
While such concessions are largely cosmetic, they do show that the government has felt pressured by a modest campaign of opposition involving one large-scale lobby of Parliament in November, a Sunday march through Manchester during October’s Tory Party conference and a YouTube address featuring TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady and the actor/comedian Eddie Izzard.
Wrangling in the Lords may well delay the Bill’s passage, but in the meantime Labour Party and union activists must ensure that Labour MPs continue to oppose the legislation in its entirety, while also building to defy legislation that bolsters what are already the most drastic restrictions on union activity in Western Europe.
Chair of Camden Trades Council and trade union co-ordinator, Hackney North CLP