Rights and liberties are collective too
The TUC took part, and we share many of the concerns expressed among the broad range of speakers who contributed. Our Congress took a strong line (p167 of pdf) against ID cards and the plan to introduce them into airports first puts trade unionists in the front line.
But while the wide participation from across the political spectrum is both a source of strength and an indication that these are issues that do not fall neatly into a left-right spectrum, it also raises problems.
Trade unions certainly back human rights. Every oppressive government includes – indeed often starts with – suppressing trade unionism. Every significant charter of human rights includes the right to free association which includes the right to form trade unions. Our colleagues suffering in countries like Iran and Zimbabwe know what real police states are like.
Yet unions also know that merely having individual rights is not enough. You also need the means to enforce them, and for people without access to wealth and power that can usually only happen collectively. Freedom of association to be meaningful must also include the freedom to act collectively.
But on Britain’s right, hostility to trade unions is pretty endemic. There is cross-party consensus that the UK should remain in breach of significant parts of ILO conventions by limiting the right to strike. Indeed there is no right to strike in the UK, simply a set of prescribed circumstances where workers and unions cannot be pursued in the courts for breach of contract.
Everyone at the Modern Liberty Convention was doubtlessly against ID cards. But if any of the airport unions were to go on strike against them they would immediately face the seizure of their assets. I wonder how wide support for that went last weekend.