We have said for some time that the main danger of fascism in Britain comes not from the EDL-type fringe but from the heart of the establishment, parliament. If you doubt this – and many still do – take a look at the Trade Union Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech.
It is the very essence of fascism: the suppression of working class organisation in the interests of the ruling class. It looks to set a framework which will see effective trade unionism obliterated by 2030. Britain’s “prosperous major economy” will have ensured that “hardworking people are not disrupted by little-supported strike action”. Like the fascists of the 1930s, the Conservatives pose as a party for the working class.
The Trade Union Bill is a transparent attempt to ban strikes in the public sector. A 50 per cent turnout threshold will be introduced for strike action. Within that, in what the government calls the “core public services”, ballots for strikes or actions short of a strike will have to be approved by 40 per cent of those entitled to vote. That “core” includes education and health. Note, these thresholds are higher than any margin required to elect an MP.
'The British ruling class may play at national division, but it quite clear on its unity against the working class'
Workers, though, should reflect. Where we are relatively weak – as evidenced in some abysmally low turnouts in other ballots on action, in sectors where it is often made much harder by outsourcing and dismemberment of the workforce – it is pointless to call for action which will be largely unsupported.
Unrealistic calls for all-out strike action where we clearly don’t have the forces will only expose our weakness to the employer – something evident in the most recent local government pay dispute. But if the government is doing us a partial favour by making kamikaze strikes more difficult to start, remember that its aim is the outlawing of all strikes.
It’s also true that on current form such thresholds will be insufficient to stop, for example, action by firefighters. Prepare, then, for future legislation raising the bar. Why a 40 per cent threshold? Why not 60 or 70 per cent?
And while the government is about it, there are a few extra shackles thrown in for good measure. More legislation will be introduced to stop the so-called intimidation of non-strikers (“scabs” in plain English) on top of the existing legislation. Time limits will force expensive re-balloting in any protracted dispute. The use of agency scabs will be legitimised.
The moribund Certification Officer will receive further powers to intervene in the internal affairs of trade unions. Some 95 per cent of Certification Officer cases at present arise from ultra-left attacks on the mainstream trade unions or the establishment of “pop-up” trade unions designed to cause division and confusion.
The British ruling class may play at national division, but is quite clear on its unity against the working class. The proposed legislation will apply to the whole of Britain plus Northern Ireland – the devolved “nations” and separate administrations are not going to be able to escape a unifying nationwide anti-trade union agenda. It’s divide and rule, but ruling comes before dividing.
No reform from Labour
Where is the pro-union agenda? Certainly not in parliament. From 1997 to 2010 Labour did not reform any anti-union statute introduced under the Tory governments of 1979 to 1997. In fact it strengthened various aspects, especially around the Certification Officer and ballots, to intervene in the internal affairs of trade unions.
There is a lesson here for workers: there is no salvation waiting for us the other side of another election.
This government aims to tie unions up in legal knots. We have to box clever, take a strategic approach, and focus on recruiting and strengthening our unions in the workplace. As the fight against a previous Conservative government’s Industrial Relations Act showed (see “Workers against the state”), no laws can stop a united and determined working class bent on asserting its own justice.