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From The Socialist newspaper, 25 October 2007

Trade Union Rights and Freedoms Bill

Why workers need a new party

THE DAY before John McDonnell MP's "watered-down" trade union freedom bill got its reading in Parliament, hundreds of trade unionists from across Britain came to lobby their MPs.

Andrew Walton, Unison shop steward, personal capacity

Trade unions are hobbled by Tory anti-union laws brought in to smash the miners and others in the 1980s. Britain is second only in Europe to Turkey in repressive trade union legislation. If these laws were repealed, unions would be able to take secondary action, such as striking against privatisation (at present illegal).

They would be able legally to take solidarity action, as in the Gate Gourmet dispute where BA baggage handlers walked out in support of sacked catering workers. Petty obstacles such as having to give complicated details of everyone who would be on strike, which resulted in the CWU union's proposed action last week being blocked by the court, would be removed.

Despite the trade unions giving millions of pounds to New Labour, the bill was left to a private member's bill. At the lobby John McDonnell himself dampened expectations, saying it would probably be 'filibustered out' of time by the government.

At the meeting of rank and file trade unionists, leaders like PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, RMT rail union boss Bob Crow and Brian Caton (General Secretary, Prison Officers Association) spoke of the need for the bill.

Brian Caton spoke of his members' action over a three-year pay freeze and overcrowding in prisons. Society would have to pick up the pieces if people with mental health problems, who needed NHS help not imprisonment, continued to be locked up without adequate resources to treat them. The idea that prison officers could be threatened with imprisonment for going on strike was greeted with derision where were they going to be put?

Tony Woodley (General Secretary, Unite) was greeted with jeers of "stop giving them money" when he argued that unions should keep affiliating to New Labour as our only hope, due to its links with the trade union movement. Yet Labour has carried out numerous attacks on public services and has no intention of making life easier for unions to campaign against them.

This Freedoms Bill could not even be debated in parliament. Similarly John McDonnell could not get on the ballot paper during Gordon Brown's leadership "coronation." These testify to the hopelessness of trying to turn New Labour around.

A century ago, rail workers came together with other trade unionists to form the Labour Party, due to the lack of political representation in parliament. This meeting made me even more convinced of the need for a new voice today to represent working-class people.

Such a party could help enable trade unionists to fight on a level playing field with their employers and provide a platform within which the need for a socialist transformation of society could be argued out.

The best way to get the Tory Party's anti-trade union laws repealed is for more unions to get behind the national shop stewards' movement and support the campaign for a new workers' party at

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In The Socialist 25 October 2007:

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