Monday, 18 April 2016
Trade Union Bill - Pauline Rourke, CWU speech to Congress on behalf of STUC General Council
Congress, Scotland’s trade union movement meets this week here in my home city of Dundee to discuss and constructively debate a huge range of issues that affect the lives of ordinary working people.
The STUC is Scotland’s largest and most progressive civic organization and I’m proud to be part of it. The rights at work now taken for granted by so many are the result of the industrial and political campaigns vigorously fought by our proud forbears.
We are a great civic movement, one that has helped create a better, more just society.
Many may quite legitimately disagree with our objectives and priorities and the policies we will ultimately agree this week. But it takes a very particular and malicious mind-set to perceive the men and women gathered here today as ‘the enemy’.
I’m afraid that is precisely the mind-set from which the TU bill sprung.
When the majority tory government came to office last May, the new business secretary identified his immediate and defining priority to be an attack on trade union’s ability to effectively represent working people.
Not how to design and implement an effective industrial policy.
Not defending steel jobs against Chinese dumping.
Not addressing appallingly weak productivity growth.
Not strengthening historically weak wage growth or boosting low business investment.
No, Said Javid regarded an attack on trade union rights to be the single most important issue for his department of business, innovation and skills to address. Has there ever been a more outrageous example of a government getting its priorities back to front?
Congress, the Trade Union Bill is unnecessary, unjustified and undemocratic.
The attack on facility time, on the political fund, on the right to strike, are all attacks on the right of unions to speak out against austerity; against low wages, to speak up for equality, for fairness in the workplace and on international injustices.
Resisting this bill, as the General Council has done and will continue to do, is not just about defending trade union rights, it is about defending fundamental civil liberties and human rights; rights that recognise that the democratic wellbeing of our society demands that workers have a meaningful collective voice in the workplace.
It is our voice, in and out of the workplace, that this Bill is intended to silence.
The Tories have quite deliberately set out to tie unions up in endless bureaucracy. Through a level of interference in our activities that goes way beyond what is reasonable in any democracy, they will severely restrict our ability to properly represent our members and to provide an effective voice in the workplace and beyond.
At the core of this is the right to strike.
Without the ability to strike, workers will have no effective voice at work. They will be left with no alternative but to accept the decisions of the employer, whatever the consequences.
There will be no fairness or justice or democracy in the workplace.
Congress, the General Council has led a dynamic and successful campaign against the Trade Union Bill in Scotland.
We have succeeded in uniting political and civil society opposition to the Bill.
The Scottish Government and a large number of local councils, have not only publicly condemned the bill, but have pledged not to cooperate with the legislation if it is eventually forced through.
Working with the Wales TUC we have exposed the incompatibility of key provisions of the bill, including the attack on facility time and check off, with devolved competencies which is likely to result in these provisions not applying in Scotland and Wales.
We have also received pledges from the Scottish Government, Scottish Labor and the Scottish Greens, that they will refuse to implement any aspect of the bill that conflict with the duty on the Scottish Parliament, enshrined in the Scotland act, to uphold international human rights obligations.
I can assure this congress, that should any of our unions be forced into a position where they have to defy the law in order to effectively represent their members, they will have the General Council’s full support and the support of the collective, organised Scottish trade union movement, through the STUC.
We know that the most effective way to resist the impact of the trade union bill, to mitigate the impact of austerity, and to achieve economic and social progress is to continue to organise in our workplaces and communities and to find new and innovative ways to engage with non-unionised workers, particularly young workers.
This is exactly what we are doing with through Better than Zero; an increasingly successful campaign focused on the experiences of young workers, run by young workers. A campaign that is demonstrating right here right now that trade unions can make a tangible difference to the lives of young workers.
And we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that unions are fighting and winning industrial disputes across the country: since congress met last year Dundee hospital porters, Glasgow care workers, further education lecturers, railway and ferry workers have all taken industrial action and won.
Congress, the Trade Union Bill is a wholly unwarranted attack on the working people of this country. The General Council is resolute in its opposition and stands ready to support and coordinate ongoing resistance to this affront to democracy. I ask you to support this composite.