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The Trade Union Bill: The Greatest Attack on Working People in 30 Years

16/07/2015 17:44 BST | Updated 16/07/2016 10:59 BST

On Wednesday in Prime Minister's Question Time, David Cameron proudly claimed that the Tories are the Party who are "standing up for working people".

Under normal circumstances, this would be enough to make us on the Labour benches in the House of Commons and working people across the country despair, but on Wednesday it just served to add insult to injury. Cameron chose the day of the publication of the Trade Union Bill to profess this. Yes, you read that correctly. Irony is dead.

You only need to examine the contents of the bill to see why. The Trade Union Bill, which was presented before Parliament yesterday afternoon, may only be just over 30 pages long but reads like a catalogue of limitations to trade union freedoms and civil liberties, amounting to the greatest attack on working people in 30 years.

In a continuation of the onslaught led by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, working people now face even more obstacles to bettering their terms and conditions. Higher balloting thresholds mean that turnout must exceed 50%, with over 40% of those voting in favour of taking strike action for it to go ahead, and even on the occasions when strike action is deemed lawful, the bill allows employers the opportunity to break the strike by bringing in agency workers to cover these vital jobs.

Not only does this totally undermine any form of workplace democracy but it could also present a risk to the public. The bill's rules would apply to "essential" public services, defined in the legislation as health, education, fire, transport, border security, including the Border Force, and energy sectors, including nuclear decommissioning. Bringing agency workers in to cover these highly specialised services, with lower levels of experience - and in many cases, expertise - presents some serious health and safety questions, not only for the vulnerable, temporary workforce but also the general public at large. This ill-thought through plan shows a complete disregard for the very people Cameron claims to represent and serves no purpose other than to pit workers against each other.

And to make matters worse, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Trade Union Bill is the latest in a long line of restrictive measures designed to crack down on our democratic rights, more generally. It picks up where the Transparency of Lobbying Act, more commonly referred to as the "gagging law" left off, infringing on the rights of trade unions and other democratic organisations to engage in political activity by imposing restrictions on the funds they use for campaigning activities. The Tories are well and truly trying to shift the balance of power even further away from ordinary working people and yesterday, as the bill was presented before Parliament, it was clear for all to see.

Instead of fighting to better the lives of the very people who have been hit hardest by their own policies, the Tories have chosen to undermine their rights at work. Instead of amplifying the voices of working people in the workplace and political arena, they have chosen to try to silence them. And instead of taking pity on workers who have been forced to take strike action as a final resort in a last ditch attempt to get the conditions at work that they deserve, the Tories have chosen to demonise them. Make no mistake about it, this proves more than ever that the Tories have their sights set firmly on Britain's six million trade unionists.

Put simply, this bill is the latest in a long line of restrictive measures designed to crack down on our democratic rights and should be opposed at every turn.

Jo Stevens is the Labour MP for Cardiff Central

This blog was first published on the Trade Union Group of MPs blog, and can be read here

The Trade Union Group of MPs is a vehicle for promoting the voices of working people in Parliament, working with a wide range of MPs and trade unionists to push the political agenda on to the side of working people