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Trade Union Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 26th January 2016.

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Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

I declare an interest: I am a member of Unite the union. We might have spent the debate largely reiterating arguments that we have made before, but I make no apology to Alex Johnstone for forcing his party to listen to them, because he is not hearing them. He must understand that we will keep returning to the bill again and again until it is finally discredited and defeated.

Let there be no doubt that, in the end, the bill will be defeated, because even if the UK Government—flying in the face of reason, argument and principles—forces the bill on to the statute book, it will be resisted as law and ultimately repealed. That is the sure and certain fate of legislation such as this, which is unnecessary, undemocratic, inflammatory, petty and vindictive.

The bill is unnecessary because this is a period of modern, partnership trade union organisation, as Mr Johnstone has acknowledged. This is not the winter of discontent. Thirty-five years ago, as many as 29 million working days were lost to strike action in a single year; the total is now barely a hundredth of that figure. The implication of the bill—that the trade union movement is one of mindless militancy—is absurd. The bill is not needed.

The bill is undemocratic because it seeks to impose outrageous thresholds on ballots for strike action, particularly in key public sectors. There are 6 million workers who are members of trade unions, which is more than the membership of any political party, yet one party—the Tories—seeks to manipulate the democratic rights of those 6 million in a way that it would not countenance applying to itself.

The bill is inflammatory because, as many members have said, the changes to ballots will reduce, not increase, the likelihood that disputes will avoid strike action. It will also allow agency staff to be used to replace striking workers. That is the industrial relations of the 19th century, not the 21st century.

The bill is petty because it attacks the simple good practice of check-off and facility time, and it is vindictive because it seeks to cut off a source of income to the Labour Party. That unilateral attack on one party’s funding by another in government has long been considered unacceptable, not least by the likes of Winston Churchill.