The government’s planned anti-trade union proposals, set out in their Trade Union Bill, is the most serious attack on trade union rights for three decades. This bill represents just the latest in a long series of attacks on the right of workers to organise collectively to protect their ability to earn a livelihood.
On September 14 all Unison members working for the National Probation Service and community rehabilitation companies in England and Wales were forced to take strike action to right an injustice. The three-hour strike – their second – is being followed by two and a half weeks of action short of strike, with members working strictly to their contracted hours.
Yet the Tories hated anti-trade union bill aims to relegate such ongoing acts of collective defiance to the dustbin of history. The Tories are conscious to the fact that strikes are critical to the armoury of the 99% against their own depredations. So under the cover of austerity, the Tories have continued to punish workers with pay cuts, while fat-cat bosses gorge themselves with colossal pay rises.
This brings me back to probation workers, who since 2010 have faced an effective pay cut of 16%. Probation employees have evidently decided that enough is enough, and in July they took their first day of strike action over the ‘slap in the face’ 0% pay offer.
Thereafter their dispute was carried forward through the independent dispute resolution body, ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service). But now their bullying employers have decided to walk of these ACAS pay talks. This ignorant action provided the spark for the current industrial action.
Unison’s national officer, Ben Priestley, explained how his union members had entered into the ACAS talks with “an open mind and ready to reach a negotiated settlement” to their long-running dispute. But when their employer decided to walk away from the talks, their members “considered this a provocative action” that left the union with no choice but to call further strike action.
Unison is hopeful that their actions will serve to encourage their employers to “come back to the negotiating table.” However, if they don’t return, we can be sure that the Trade Union Congress (TUC) lobby of Parliament on 2 November will provide the perfect opportunity for a massive mobilisation of working-class disgust at the Tories cuts agenda and their anti-union bill (#KILLTHEBILL).
Jeremy Corbyn’s monumental rise to Labour’s leadership is a reflection of the mood to fight both Tory austerity and their attacks on the unions. And if the resounding nod of confidence that Corbyn attained in recent months can amplify the fight-back against our government then the Tories should be running scared.
Workers may well choose to follow the lead shown by 150 million Indian workers who just a few weeks ago demonstrated their fury at their impoverishment by determinedly organising a 24-hour general strike. What there can be no doubt of is that in this age of austerity the working-class and their trade unions will play a central role in resisting the bosses’ onslaught.
This letter was emailed to the Leicester Mercury mailbox on 14th September. Published on 21st September as “Onslaught on union rights“; the words above highlighted in bold were published.