Thousands of people gathered in Westminster on Monday to fight against the Conservatives' Trade Union Bill. Many individuals appropriately joined the rally during their lunch breaks - a right fought for by trade unions - and others appeared at four or five o' clock at the end of their eight-hour workday - another right secured by trade unions. Others, unfortunately, couldn't attend because of sickness. Thankfully, many of those individuals will still receive pay due to the struggles of trade unions. Others assumedly couldn't attend because they were enjoying paid holiday. You get the point.
Trade unions have fought, and won, constant battles over workers' rights throughout the history of industrial Britain. They have provided workers with higher wages, paid sick leave, additional time off, safer workplaces and so on. It is therefore strange that the self-described 'party of working people' seek to damage a movement that has achieved so much for working people. And don't be fooled into thinking the Conservatives' Trade Union Bill is a moderate attempt to limit the strength of unions. This is a full-blown attack.
The Tories start with proposals concerning democracy. The Trade Union Bill demands a minimum 50% turnout in strike ballots. Boris Johnson could 'find no fault' with the measures presented in this Bill, despite obtaining his London mayoral victory with a 38% turnout. I found a fault, Boris. The Tories also demand that public sector strikes need the backing of at least 40% of those eligible to vote. By the same measure, of course, we could reverse the Conservatives' victory at the general election. I found another fault, Boris. Unsurprisingly, the Tories' democratic demands amount to little more than one rule for us and another for them.
These hypocritical measures seem somehow moderate compared to the other ridiculous proposals. The Trade Union Bill intends to secure the introduction of a fine on unions of up to £20,000 if picket supervisors fail to wear an official armband. Perhaps this armband tax is simply part of Osborne's plan to balance the budget following huge cuts to corporation tax. The Conservatives give tax breaks to corporations and employ hefty fines for union reps that have left their armbands at their mum's house. We are all in this together.
The government also originally proposed to force trade unions to seek police approval before they sent tweets. They have since dropped this proposal. I'm assuming the Conservative's decided the recent Investigatory Powers Bill renders this last proposal obsolete. After all, the government don't need to make trade unions notify the police of their Twitter antics when they are already sifting through their emails, their social media and their browsing history.
The government also dropped proposals to force each individual attending a picket to alert the authorities of their names. Maybe the Conservatives' reversal is the government cutting imaginary red tape that they indeed created, or perhaps they just can't afford that sort of nonsense considering cuts to public services. Either way, it was a stupid and implausible measure that unions couldn't possibly abide. That, I suppose, was the point.
It's flagrantly obvious that these absurd proposals are not about ensuring fairness. Rather, these policies are a thinly veiled attempt to make strikes impossible and industrial action illegal. The Trade Union Bill is nothing short of a full-blown, unabashed attack on workers' rights. It is an obvious and callous attempt by the so-called 'party of working people' to belittle a movement that actually stands for working people.
Let us consider what will be lost if these proposals succeed. According to Stronger Unions, 6.4 million British workers belong to a trade union. Trade union members are paid significantly more than non-members. Public sector union members, for example, receive 21% more than non-members. Women are more likely to belong to a trade union than men are, and unionised women earn 30% more than non-unionised women - something Cameron fails to address in his fight for equal pay.
The victories of trade unions on behalf of working people are obvious. Workers with no affiliation reap the rewards through workplace safety, eight-hour workdays and paid sick leave. Those affiliated reap even greater rewards. Any party that seeks to better the plight of workers would champion the trade union movement. Instead, the Conservatives have decided to attack. Now, we have to fight back.
The third reading of the Trade Union Bill takes place on the 10th November. In the next week, go out and sign a petition, email your MP, attend a protest or raise awareness online. Unions are not perfect, certainly not, but they are always on the side of working people. That, if nothing else, proves their worth. And right now, in the age of austerity, trade unions are more important than ever. It is therefore vital that we support our trade unions for they have always supported us.