Why is attacking trade unions one of the Government’s top priorities?

27th May, 2015 1:48 pm

The Queen’s Speech sets the government’s agenda for the coming parliament. And today’s gave a clear sign as to what this Tory government – the first in 18 years – considers a priority: taking away workers’ right to legally go on strike.


In one speech, the Government – using the Queen as their mouthpiece – went from saying they wanted to help working people to outlining how they would effectively ban the right to strike.

In their Trade Unions Bills, the Tories announced that they would impose a 50% turnout threshold on strike ballots. This means 50% of all union members will have to take part in a vote for it to be valid. And for people working in “essential public services” – that’s anyone working in health, education, fire and transport – they have to be supported by 40% of those entitled to vote in order for a strike to be considered legal. This they say is democratic – from a Government who just weeks ago won an election with the support of 24% of people eligible to vote.

While they’ve been busy writing up these anti-strike laws, the Conservatives have shown no interest in modernising the voting system. Both Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, and David Prentis, General Secretary at Unison, have called for a change in the voting system to increase turnouts. And last year the TUC urged then Business Secretary Vince Cable to allow electronic voting in strike ballots – a measure they’ve been asking successive governments to push through for years. But the Tories aren’t interested.

They know all too well that these new thresholds, paired with an outdated voting system, will make most strikes illegal and take away one of the few ways ‘working people’ can make their voice heard.

But it’s not just the strike laws that the Government are going to tamper with. Buried in the details of this bill is a proposal that wasn’t fully explained in the Tory manifesto: “a transparent opt-in process for the political fund element of of trade union subscriptions”. While the Tories said there’d be an opt-in process for union subscriptions, they didn’t specify the political levy.

This could, as Patrick Wintour has pointed out, seriously impact union political funds and Labour’s funding.

So while the government claim that their aim is to help ‘working people’, you have to wonder why this means making it almost impossible for those same people to exercise what should be their democratic right to strike. Might it have something to do with all those spending cuts that are in the pipeline…

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