Tory class war on workers’ rights

low pay demo

Defend workers: working class people need to shape their own future, demanding full democratic rights at work

by Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser Anyone who doubts we are in the midst of a class war hasn’t been awake recently! The Tory party election manifesto for May’s Westminster general election includes an open declaration of continued class war by the rich on the rest of us. That applies to most of their aims, but specifically new anti-trade union measures, a de facto ban on the right to strike for millions of workers, especially in the public sector.

It comes as no surprise to trade unionists or socialists, but it highlights the need to struggle or face starvation. The Tories want to legislate a 40 per cent threshold of all potential voters—NOT just those who ACTUALLY vote—in any union ballot for industrial action, before workers can take lawful action in self-defence from the government’s escalating assault on their jobs, wages and conditions.

The Tories have already ripped apart the few remaining rights we have at work. Prior to the 2010 elections, the UK already boasted the most vicious, reactionary, anti-worker employment laws in the whole of Europe—after not just the 1980s Thatcher Dark Ages, but also the subsequent 13 years of Labour governments.

Tony Blair shamelessly boasted of “the most restrictive employment laws in Europe”, as his government unleashed a profit-crazed, totally deregulated banking and business regime on the population.

Then the present Westminster Coalition was foisted upon us in the rigged 2010 election outcome—rigged, because nobody was ever asked to vote for a Tory-Lib Dem coalition, and many were stupid enough to imagine voting Lib Dem was an anti-Tory vote!

Cameron and Clegg’s Westminster boot-boys have trampled on the rights of workers in a systematic crusade to rob our wages, pensions, public services and jobs, so the rich can get obscenely richer.

Fees for taking cases of workplace mistreatment to Employment Tribunals have priced workers out of any pretence of justice. The Citizens Advice Bureaux report a fall in the number of new cases submitted since fees were introduced (in 2013) from an average 48,000 a quarter to 13,612 in the third quarter of 2014.

Cash is the chief barrier—and those workers not in a trade union are totally defenceless, as they’d have to fork out up to £1,200 just to get a Tribunal case heard.

In the CAB survey, four out of 10 workers with an issue they’d like taken to a Tribunal only had £46 a week left after paying their essential bills, meaning they’d have to save up for six months just to pay the fees for an Employment Tribunal—with no guarantee of success either, of course.

Recently the Tories and Lib Dems introduced a rule that industrial action ballots require a turnout of over 50 per cent. That in the context of clamping down on the ability of unions to meet or function in workplaces.

Most notoriously, the same government has abolished the facility for union membership fees to be collected from civil service workers’ wages—in an attempt to smash the socialist-led PCS union—accompanied by removal of facilities for elected PCS reps to represent their members at work.

Now the Tories want to add the clause that unless over 40 per cent of all potential voters in such a ballot actually vote for it, any industrial action is illegal, and union funds could be seized.

They want this to apply to workers in the NHS, transport and fire services. Their excuse is that these services are ‘essential’—something the same axe-wielding capitalist politicians deny in action as they slash jobs and public service provision in all these sectors.

Their aims are nakedly obvious. As the Tories gear up to force through the remaining £55billion in public sector cuts of the £90billion total that they’ve previously declared, they want to crush the resistance of workers in the frontline.

For instance, the Coalition has already shut down 39 fire stations since 2010, and shed 5,000 firefighters’ jobs—so they want to neuter the ability of the Fire Brigades Union to fight back, as they are currently doing through strike action in several regions.

As they impose even more pay cuts on public sector workers who’ve had pay cuts for 6 or 7 years, the political arm of capitalism want to make collective action to win better pay legally impossible.

Alongside the 40 per cent threshold, the Tories plan to end the current restrictions on the use of agency workers as scabs during industrial action—so they can dragoon desperate people into undermining the conditions of fellow-workers, knowing full well that agency workers feel helpless and without rights in many cases.

And they want to ‘review’ minimum service levels during strikes, so as to prevent total shutdowns. Over the years I’ve often encountered situations in the likes of local government and the NHS where strikers’ unions have had to agree levels of cover for emergencies during the strike that actually meant MORE staff on duty than on the average day before the strike, such are the appalling levels of under-staffing!

Now the Tories want to turn the screw even tighter, as part of a package to effectively outlaw the right to strike for millions of workers. The MPs who want to further shackle workers have absolutely no moral basis for their 50 per cent and 40 per cent thresholds on union votes.

These chancers enjoy full rights and resources to put their case in the media and at meetings in a fashion workers’ union representatives can’t even dream of being allowed to do in their workplaces.

They spend £millions on election propaganda—on top of their free access to compliant, sycophantic media, owned by the same billionaires who use the mainstream media to smear and demonise trade unionists.

But despite all these advantages, those MPs who have hamstrung workers’ unions with their anti-union laws can’t even get the kind of share of the vote they want to impose on the unions.

Since 1945, not a single one of the successive Westminster governments got over 50 per cent of the votes cast, let alone a majority of the entire electorate.

In fact, not one UK government since 1945 has gained the votes of over 40 per cent of the electorate—the threshold the Tories plan to impose on union ballots.

In the 2010 Westminster general election, 433 out of 650 MPs gained their bloated salaries despite getting less than 50 per cent of the votes cast.

Cameron’s Tories only gained 36 per cent of the votes cast in 2010, in a 65 per cent turnout of voters—meaning these capitalist dictators only got 23.5 per cent of the electorate to vote for them! And that’s across the UK, not Scotland, where they were overwhelmingly rejected.

Even if you distort reality by adding on the Lib Dems’ share (a distortion, because not a single MP was elected as a Tory-Lib Dem candidate), the Coalition still only managed 38 per cent of the electorate.

The 40 per cent con-trick is especially bitter-tasting in Scotland. In 1979, a clear majority of voters favoured a Scottish parliament, but were denied their wishes by the ‘40 per cent of the electorate’ threshold that had been imposed on that year’s referendum. Scots were denied a parliament for another 20 years.

Trade unionists and socialists must resist these escalated attacks on workplace rights by every available means. But relying on a Labour government is not one of those means.

It was Labour in government from 1997 to 2010 which retained Thatcher’s brutal package of anti-union laws. It is today’s Labour party that refuses to pledge repeal of these laws.

It is today’s Labour party that pledges to cut public spending every single year they are in office until they have cleared the public deficit—making workers and communities pay for the debts created by Labour’s £1.3trillion bailout of the bankers that the same Labour government had given free rein to ‘get rich quick’.

In fighting these draconian additions to the worst anti-union laws in Europe, trade union leaders should give workers some confidence by declaring that where the issues demand it, the unions will simply defy the anti-union laws and take decisive action to defend workers.

These are laws imposed by governments elected by minorities, ruling in the class interests of the 1 per cent who own the bulk of the wealth created by the working class in the first place.

Working class people need to shape their own future, demanding full democratic rights at work, through their trade unions, community organisations, and by building a mass socialist party.

The SSP has consistently fought for workplace democracy, including the rights of free trade unions to function, and the right to take action by a majority vote after full debate.

As long as we are dominated by an economic system that seeks maximum profit for the few, workers will face attempts to castrate their unions and ban their rights to resistance.

We need to combine the struggle for workplace rights with the broader battle for democratic ownership and control of the economy—for socialism.

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