There has been a lot of talk recently that politics is moving back to the 1980’s, most of this has been in relation to the Labour Leadership elections.
However, for me, the party that really looks like driving things back to an era of 1980’s style industrial strife are the Tories.
In their Trade Union Bill we see an attack on Trade Unions that seeks to marginalise and limit their ability to represent and protect their members.
The Bill seeks to introduce turnout thresholds on ballots and to allow employers to draft in temporary workers to cover for striking workers.
Whilst these proposals grab most of the headlines the bill also includes measures that will have an impact on how unions collect their subscriptions, the information unions will need to give to employers about plans to strike and restrictions on peaceful picketing.
All of these proposals risk creating an atmosphere and climate in industrial relations last seen during the miners strike and when union membership was banned at GCHQ.
Things have moved on from the mid-80’s.
Since then we’ve seen unions take forward workplace learning through the introduction of union learning reps. I’ve seen at first hand how they’ve assisted workers in gaining new skills, helped to break down the barriers between different grades through arranging courses for learning languages and built up the confidence of individuals so that they go on to take on new roles.
Unions also play a key role when it comes to Health & Safety and in many workplaces take the lead in promoting a positive safety culture which leads to the reduction of trips, slips and near misses and workers having to take time off a win, win situation for both employees and the employer.
The majority of my time spent as a union rep hasn’t been about going out on strike, its been about helping people with different issues and negotiating policies with management.
When strike action is taken, it is usually because there is very little alternative.
Take for instance members of my own union the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS).
PCS members at the National Museums of Scotland (NMS) are currently involved in a dispute that is essentially about fairness and trying to get a level playing field for everyone working there.
The background to the dispute is that NMS management arbitrarily imposed a change to a weekend shift rate, which means that if you were employed after January 2011, you won’t receive a weekend shift rate that can amount to between £2000 and £3000 a year.
In effect there is a two-tier workforce, these are low paid workers and therefore this shift rate makes a massive difference to those working there.
Disputes like this where the union involved are fighting for fair terms and conditions for all will be more difficult to organise should this bill be passed.
The Tory party have never been friends of the trade union movement but when even David Davis MP, a former Tory leadership candidate describes elements of this bill as being like something out of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain, then it should be really time for them to think again.
If you would like to sign a petition against this bill you can do it here.