Trade unionists lobbying their MPs in Parliament yesterday. Photo: Jess Hurd @JessHurdPhoto / TUC
Government forced into first climbdown over trade union bill
Yesterday I had the privilege to speak to over 2,500 people at the lobby against the trade union bill. It was a fantastic event, with union members travelling from all over the UK to talk with their MPs in person. Spirits were high, even though the queues to get into Parliament stretched on and on. Even the police told us it was the biggest lobby of MPs they’d ever seen.
And now, just one day on, it seems like the pressure on the government is paying off. This afternoon they have announced a big climbdown on some of their proposals to restrict picketing and protest.
The Government has now dropped its proposal to make unions publish a protest and picketing plan 14 days in advance. This would have made unions spell out in great detail how they planned to campaign during a strike. It would have given employers and the police two weeks’ notice of everything the union planned to do – where and when pickets would be held, how many would attend, even whether megaphones would be used. And it would have made unions declare online campaigning plans – including what they were intending to post on Facebook and Twitter. And if they didn’t stick to the plan, unions would have been liable for fines of up to £20,000.
The government has also decided not to go ahead with proposals to create new criminal offences around picketing or to make every picketer wear an armband or give their name to the police – more wins for our campaigning.
Crucially, the government have dropped their proposal for the picket organiser to have to carry a letter of authorisation with their name and address on, which would have to be shown to the police and any member of the public who asked to see it.
But of course there’s still lots we aren’t happy about. Picket organisers will still have to wear an armband. They’ll still have to give their name and address to the police. And they’ll still have to carry a standard letter from the union authorising the picket. So concerns about blacklisting and victimisation may be reduced but they haven’t gone away.
And, more widely, from giving employers powers to substitute strikers with agency workers and new opportunities to win injunctions and damages, the trade union bill is still a fundamental attack on the right to strike and to organise – in ways that I have set out time and again.
The bill gets its final Commons vote next Tuesday, before it moves on to the Lords. Concern has been growing amongst government backbenchers. At second reading we saw five Conservative MPs speak on the bill, with David Davis MP threatening to oppose at third reading unless it was changed.
Will this last minute compromise be enough to buy back the votes of worried Conservative MPs next week? And convince the sceptical Lords in the weeks that follow? We shall see. And the TUC will continue to fight this threat to the right to strike every step of the way.
If you haven’t yet written to your MP about the trade union bill, there is still time to do so before the final reading on 10 November.