TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady attacked the government’s Trade Union Bill as “ a shambles.”
Addressing a TUC rally at Westminster Central Hall, Ms O’Grady declared “we are going to oppose this anti-worker, civil rights denying trade union bashing shambles of a bill.”
She questioned if the Bill is not about attacking the right to strike, then why are employers being given so many more ways to take unions to court and take away their funds.
“They can take away our rights but never take away our spirit,” said a defiant Ms O'Grady, who declared the Bill "unfair and undemocratic."
The TUC general secretary challenged the government to allow unions to conduct electronic balloting if it is serious about wanting higher turnouts on strike votes. “If electronic balloting is good enough for the Tory Party to select its mayoral candidate, then it is surely good enough for trade unions,” said Ms O'Grady, who claimed that the Bill amounted to not just an attack on trade unions but all working people. “Sisters and brothers today is just the beginning, let’s show that this bill is bad for workers, bad for democracy and bad for the economy.”
The rally at Westminster Central Hall was followed by lobbying of Mps in Parliament, with a particular focus on Tories, some of whom have shown a willingness to speak out about the legislation. Former Conservative Party leadership contender David Davis has likened elements of the bill on restricting picketing to something out of General Francos dictatorship in Spain.
The rally got off to a lively start with bag pippers heralding in a group of firefighters joining the protest. The Unison staff choir gave a rendition of “Something inside so strong” whilst a representative from the Police Federation took a bow.
Comedian and Equity member Andy Parsons brought some light relief to proceedings, suggesting that the six million trade unionists in Britain, all email and phone business minister Sajid Javid to tell him what they will be doing in two weeks time.
Andy suggested twitter messages could be sent to #SajidJavidwants to know and if reinforcements were needed agency twitterers should be brought in to keep the flow going. “If trade union officials have to wear armbands, then all trade unionists should wear armbands, then when one is asked his or her name the answer should come I’m Spartacus,” said Andy.
Communication Workers Union General Secretary Dave Ward called for every trade union to organise a day of action to protest against the Bill.
“This bill is more vicious than anything Margaret Thatcher’s governments did against trade unions. I’m saying that every trade unionist should receive a letter from their general secretary stating that their union has a programme for a day of action,” said Mr Ward.“We have to go further; we have to be prepared to make the sacrifices our forefathers made. We have to be prepared to do all things necessary to stop this bill being made law.”
Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti warned that the government was trying to divide and rule with its application of the TU Bill. She quoted how the right to strike was lined up against the right of the public to receive a service. “Who are trade unionists if they are not the public,” said Ms Chakrabarti. “This government is on the wrong side of liberty, equality and history. “We have solidarity on our side.”
General Secretary of the FBU Matt Wrack accused the Tories of seeking to remove red tape for business whilst piling it on for trade unions.
He described the bill as an attack on the rights of every single working person in Britain today. “They intend to destroy our public services, pay and pensions,” said Mr Wrack, who called for the creation of a mass movement that makes the Bill irrelevant.