Saturday, 30 April 2016

Tory policy on Unions through history

Conservative governments have not dared all-out assaults on unions. Instead they have consistently favoured a series of salami style attacks. Evidenced by their record in office, Conservative policy towards Unions is a matter of fact rather than opinion:

1980 Employment Act
  • Definition of lawful picketing restricted to own place of work
  • 80% ballot needed to legalise a closed shop
  • Funds offered for union ballots
  • Restricted right to take secondary action
  • Code of practice (six pickets)
  • Repeal of statutory recognition procedure
  • Restricts unfair dismissal and maternity rights
  • Unfair dismissal rights from 1 year to 6 months in companies under 20
1982 Employment Act
  • Further restrictions on industrial action - eg. definition of trade dispute
  • Further restricted action to 'own' employer
  • Employers could obtain injunctions against unions and sue unions for damages
  • 80% rule extended to ALL closed shops every 5 years
  • Compensation for dismissal because of closed shop
  • Removed union only labour clauses in commercial contracts
1984 Trade Union Act
  • EC elections every 5 years by secret ballot
  • Political fund ballots every 10 years
  • Secret ballots before industrial action
1986 Public Order Act
  • New criminal offences in relation to picketing
1988 Employment Act
  • Unions to compensate members disciplined for non-compliance with majority decisions
  • Members can seek injunction if no pre-strike ballot
  • Union finances to be open to inspection
  • Unions prevented from paying members’ or officials’ fines
  • Action to preserve post entry closed shop made unlawful
  • New restrictions on industrial action and election ballots
  • Ballots for separate workplaces
  • Ballots for non-voting EC members
  • Election addresses controlled
  • Independent scrutiny
  • Establishment of CROTUM (Commissioner for the Rights Of Trade Union Members)
1989 Employment Act
  • Tribunal pre-hearing review and proposed deposit of £150
  • Exemption of small employer from providing details of disciplinary procedures
  • Restricts time off with pay for union duties
  • Written reasons for dismissal now require 2 years' service
  • Redundancy rebates abolished
  • Abolition of training commission
1990 Employment Act
  • Attack on pre-entry closed shop - unlawful to refuse to employ non-union member
  • All secondary action now unlawful
  • Unions liable for action induced by ANY official unless written repudiation using statutory form of words sent to all members
  • Selective dismissal of strikers taking unofficial action
  • Extended power of CROTUM
1992 Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act
  • Brings together all collective employment rights including trade union finances and elections; union members' rights including dismissal, time off; redundancy consultation; ACAS, CAC and CROTUM; industrial action legislation
  • Does not cover individual rights like unfair dismissal, redundancy pay, maternity etc (these are covered by 1978 EPCA)
1993 Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act
  • Individuals can seek injunction against unlawful action
  • Creation of Commissioner for Protection Against Unlawful Industrial Action
  • 7 days notice of ballots and of industrial action
  • Members to be involved in ballot to be identified
  • Attack on Bridlington procedures
  • Written consent for check-off every three years
  • Financial records, including salaries, to be available
  • Checks on election ballots
  • Independent scrutiny of strike ballots
  • All industrial action ballots to be postal
  • Postal ballots on union mergers
  • New powers for Certification Officer to check union finances
  • Higher penalties against unions failing to keep proper accounts
  • ‘Wilson/Palmer’ Amendment (sweeteners to those moving to individual contracts)
  • Unlawful to dismiss heath & safety rep in course of duties and those walking off unsafe site
  • Right of individual to challenge collective agreement in contravention of equal treatment terms
  • Changes to Transfer of Undertakings Regulations
  • Changes to redundancy terms (consultation)
  • Abolition of Wages Councils
  • Changes to Tribunals and EAT procedures

The Labour government of 1997-2010 left the vast majority of the anti-union laws untouched.  However a raft of positive "individual rights" for workers were introduced in addition to union recognition laws.

The Conservative/LibDem coalition of 2010-2015 continued the attack, with obscene charges for employment Tribunals.  This has taken justice away from millions of workers. The number of cases brought to Tribunal has reduced by over 80%     Thankfully the coalition retreated from it's desire to introduce "no fault dismissals", but the very adoption of this idea shows very clearly whose side these they are on.

Of course, we are currently seeing The Trade Union Bill seeking to make it very much more difficult to take strike action.  The bill is broad and contains many spiteful measures.  Attacks on unions, both in the media and in legislation, get more confident and more outrageous where unions become weaker.

These attacks are not a UK phenomena.  There are similar anti-union attacks taking place by right-wing governments around the world, eg America, Canada, Australia.  It seems these politicians are getting the same instructions from the same forces of global capital.

But none of this is new. According to the The Institute of Employment Rights , union bashing started 5000 years ago! Here are some examples:
  • Anti-union laws go back to the time of the Pyramids: 5,000 years ago
  • 1306: Royal Proclamation Against Congregations and Chapter
  • 1799-1800: Anti-combination laws
  • 1859: Tolpuddle Martyrs transported to Australia for swearing illegal oaths ie. organising a union
  • 1906: Taff Vale Railway Company vs Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (ASRS, forerunner of RMT) judgment: unions liable for loss of employers’ profits caused by strikes; overturned by Trades Disputes Act 1906
  • 1909: Osborne judgment: trade unions could no longer use their funds for political purposes; overturned by Trade Union Act 1913, which allowed unions to have political funds that members can opt out of
  • 1927 - Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1927 was a wide ranging and vindictive attack on unions and Labour party funding. "Sympathy action",picketing and the right to strike were massively attacked. The new law criminalised "unlawful" unofficial action and allowed for prison sentences of upto two years.
This excellent site is very informative about UK union history

Our history informs our future.  Without doubt, right wing attacks upon unions will never go away.   Thresholds for legal industrial action would gradually get increased once introduced, as has happened in Republican controlled states in America,  Many people say Unions should not be involved in politics.  These people don't appear to be very well informed!