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Union Review Is Another Tory Witch-Hunt

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Let's call the government's new "review" of trade union activities what it is: a political witch-hunt and a sham.

When direct evidence emerges of a conspiracy stretching back years to blacklist trade unionists and prevent them from working, no inquiry is deemed necessary.

When a few wealthy executives are reminded of the damage their decisions do to people's lives, it is apparently a gravely serious matter that demands urgent attention.

This is, quite obviously, a complete nonsense and I was delighted to see Unite immediately denounce the move in the strongest terms. I can not see how any trade union could even consider participating in this inquiry when its backdrop has been stitched in this way.

But it is unsurprising, in that it is symbolic of the glaring and iniquitous imbalance of industrial and economic power in this country.

While average wage rises still lag way behind the increase in cost of living, a report published today shows executive pay soared by 14% last year. Now that is what I call a national scandal.

When Ineos boss Jim Ratcliffe held a gun to the country's head and threatened to close Grangemouth, that was also a national scandal. Ratcliffe and his kind are not fit to run such vital pillars of our economy.

But, all too predictably, it was the workers and their union who were vilified by the government that, let us never forget, is led by a party bankrolled by owners of, and investors in, big businesses.

This is also a government that consistently refuses to negotiate with my union, by far the largest representative body in the civil service. In fact, it has started and stoked some major industrial disputes in the last few years. Notably over public sector pensions when the minister in charge, Francis Maude, was rumbled live on national radio after apparently not even having read the report he was basing his decisions on.

In a bid to finish what Thatcher started, the Tories in the coalition have launched a general offensive against unions in the workplace, and in the public sector specifically. Alongside a bonfire of some basic employment rights - such as consultation over redundancies and access to tribunals - ministers have halved the amount of time our representatives can take to act on behalf of their colleagues, often in complex negotiations or hearings, wilfully ignoring the positive benefits this brings to the economy.

Just last week we were finally able to publish details of a despicable case of intimidation by a government department against one of our reps, a young lad from Liverpool called Kevin Smith.

A tribunal judge ruled that Kevin was unfairly sacked by the Home Office for his trade union activities and, unusually, ordered his reinstatement. But the case had dragged on for almost a year, causing Kevin unnecessary distress, because the Home Office refused to accept it had done anything wrong. It even had the audacity to argue that Kevin shouldn't have his job back - the one he was unfairly dismissed from - because trust between him and the department had "fundamentally and irrevocably" broken down. It would be funny if it wasn't so serious.

Back to the review, the Lib Dems have again been caught on the hop by the Tories and are having to claim it will investigate employers as well. No one really believes that is the intention, I think people see this for what it is.

So while it might be tempting to laugh it off as just the latest Tory election stunt, the implications are far-reaching. It says a lot about our government that it is so unsure of its policies, and the actions of its backers in big business, that it feels the need to clamp down even further on legitimate protest.

There were only ever two outcomes to a witch-hunt: to find the offender guilty or kill them off anyway. The Tories' sense of justice and fair play would see them tolerate either. We must make sure neither is made possible.

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