TUC general secretary accuses government of wanting to turn back the clock to Victorian times over workers’ rights

Tim Lezard Europe, UK,
TUC demonstration in London, September 2015

TUC demonstration in London, September 2015

Trade unions will fight the government’s Trade Union Bill all the way, Frances O’Grady told thousands of protestors in Manchester today.

Addressing the ‘No to austerity, Yes to workers’ rights’ rally this afternoon, the TUC general secretary said: “Trade unions are facing one of the most challenging times in our history. The trade union bill is a fundamental attack on the right to strike. It is, in the words of Liberty and Amnesty International, a major assault on civil liberties in the UK.

“Strike action is always a last resort – nobody wants to lose a day’s pay. But let’s not forget that without it we wouldn’t have equal pay or an eight hour day.

“Without the right to strike steelworkers at Tata wouldn’t have been able to safeguard their pension rights. Hovis workers wouldn’t have been able to stop new starters being put on zero-hours contracts. And midwives, who took strike action for the first time in their 133-year history, wouldn’t have secured the pay rise their independent pay review body said they were entitled to – a modest 1%.

“The government’s Trade Union Bill is about shifting the balance of power in the workplace and silencing union opposition to cuts. Its measures go well beyond changes to how strike ballots are carried out.

“For the first time since the 1970s, bosses will be able to bus in agency temps to break a strike. This will make strikes less effective and reduce workers’ bargaining power. And it could mean agency workers without proper training and proper support delivering important services that we all rely on.

“The Bill will impose stifling restrictions on peaceful pickets and protests. Unions will be forced to tell the police and employers what they are planning to put on Facebook 14 days beforehand. If they make a mistake they could be fined up to £20,000 a time.

“And if union organisers forget to wear an armband on a picket line, employers will be able to rush to the courts to get the strike called off.

“The British people don’t want their police officers monitoring what trade unionists post on social media or checking if they are wearing the correct armband. They want them out there catching the real criminals.

“Is it any wonder that that David Davis – yes, David Davis, the Conservative MP – has likened these plans to Franco’s Spain?  They are an affront to all fair-minded democrats.

“How can ministers prioritise undermining British liberties over getting our economy running at full steam again? And how can they prioritise threatening the basic right to strike over dealing with the issues that really matter to people, such as getting decent jobs for everyone?

“But I’ve got news for them. We will fight this Bill every inch of the way and show the public there is a positive alternative.

“Because if the Conservatives were really serious about boosting democracy at work, then they would allow electronic and secure workplace balloting.

“If it is good enough for them to use to select their candidate for London mayor, then why can’t teachers, factory workers, shop assistants and nurses use it too?

“The contrast could not be clearer. The government wants to turn the clock back to Victorian times and settle old grudges. We want to embrace the twenty-first century.

“These may be testing times for unions, but we are ready for the challenge. So that’s why today, we stand together to say a resounding ‘No!’ to austerity – and ‘Yes!’ to workers’ rights.”


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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