Barts Unite activists at the NSSN lobby of the TUC on 10 September, photo Socialist Party
Barts Unite activists at the NSSN lobby of the TUC on 10 September, photo Socialist Party

Rob Williams, Socialist Party executive committee

The main motion on the anti-trade union laws was a composited motion, of which the strongest parts came from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the RMT rail union.

The motion was moved by the NASUWT teachers’ union, which is taking national action short of strike action next week. General secretary Patrick Roache said: “Our movement is built on resistance.”

In seconding the motion, Mick Lynch from the RMT reminded everyone of 40 years of anti-trade union laws, but stressed that Congress needs to concentrate on the content of this motion, which is non-compliance and non-cooperation. “And that means there needs to be a special Congress called, there needs to be a national demonstration. Because compliance is the road to oblivion for the trade union movement”.

He said: “The reason why people remember the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the 1926 general strike and the miners’ strike, is because they fought and they didn’t give in. We need a serious mobilisation of the working class, led by the TUC.”

“Strike ban”

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, spoke in the debate and said it was the most important strategic debate of the week. “We want to see the back of all the trade union laws, and that’s the message we send to the Labour Party. And we send a warning to Labour: no backsliding from their promise to repeal the MSL and 2016 Trade Union Act within the first 100 days. And we send them a warning that we will defeat and smash this legislation.” The FBU’s original motion specifically called on “Labour-led local authorities, mayors, fire authorities and other public bodies to refuse to implement the MSL laws”. That reference was take out of the final composite, but it does put demands on employers.


Matt also made the point that in the Tory government consultation, they had different options on what was a minimum service level for the fire and rescue service. The high level was 90%, and the middle level was 77%. “That is effectively a strike ban,” he said. And in the control rooms, the MSL they’ve proposed is 100%!

The General Council of the TUC recommended that the composite motion be accepted. However, Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis, speaking on behalf of the General Council, said that the government hadn’t come forward yet with the definite MSL, and so a special Congress would be called after that has happened. It would be that special Congress that would call a national demonstration.

The congress debate did reflect what many workers will feel, coming as it does during the strike wave against the cost-of-living crisis. But all those union members and activists will not be satisfied with that plan to wait.

Workers want plans made now, for the agreed position of a national demonstration to be called now. Workers will expect that policy to be carried out without delay.

Key extracts from the agreed composite motion:

  • Congress agrees that we have no choice but to build mass opposition to the MSL laws, up to and including a strategy of non-compliance and non-cooperation to make them unworkable, including industrial action.
  • Congress calls on the next Labour government to immediately repeal MSL, the Trade Union Act 2016 and take urgent steps to remove other anti-union laws.
  • Congress pledges 100% solidarity with any trade unions attacked under these MSL laws.
  • Congress agrees we must use all means necessary to defeat the unjust MSLs laws and calls on the General Council to proactively seek to:
  • resist any further restrictive trade union legislation and demand:
  • the repeal of the Trade Union Act 2016 and all other anti-trade union legislation;
  • stronger rights for unions to access workplaces, win recognition, and establish collective bargaining rights; and
  • the right for trade union members to vote online during industrial action ballots, and statutory elections for executive committees and general secretaries.
  • build an appropriate industrial response to defend workers’ right to strike;
  • legally challenge the Minimum Service Levels (MSL) legislation;
  • call on employers, devolved governments, mayors, fire authorities, local authorities and other public bodies to refuse to implement the MSL legislation and issue work notices and work with the trade union movement to render MSLs inoperable;
  • support demonstrations and hold a national march opposing the legislation and calling for repeal of the anti-union laws;
  • mobilise support for any affiliate seeking assistance, whose union and members are sanctioned for non-compliance;
  • organise a Special Congress, size to be determined, to explore options for non-compliance and resistance.

The full composite can be seen at