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Trade Union Act 2016:
The Fight Continues to Defend the Right of the Working Class to Organise
The 2016 Immigration Act and the Criminalisation of Migrants and Asylum Seekers:
Urgent Need to Organise against the Racism and Chauvinism of the Ruling Elite and Defend the Rights of All as Human Beings
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With barely a pause, the Conservative government has launched into its 2016/17 legislative programme as a continuation of its anti-social programme of its first 2015/16 term.
The "Queen's Speech" at the end of a parliament is not so well-known or publicised as the one which commences it. It is one that the Queen herself does not attend, but MPs are summoned to the Lords to hear what had been accomplished in the previous year. On May 12, Royal Assent was given to a number of Acts, including the Immigration Act 2016, ending the first session of the 56th Parliament which had opened on May 18, 2015. The Trade Union Act had been passed on May 4. WWIE is carrying reports on these two Acts in this issue.
The May 12 Queen's Speech declared that the government's legislative programme had "pursued a one nation approach". It went on to list policies and measures from the previous year in such self-serving terms that it was difficult to separate fact from fiction. What is evident from the comparison of the May 12 and May 18 speeches is that the government will continue its neo-liberal austerity agenda. The "one nation approach" translates into: "My Government will use the opportunity of a strengthening economy to deliver security for working people, to increase life chances for the most disadvantaged and to strengthen national defences. My Ministers will continue to bring the public finances under control so that Britain lives within its means, and to move to a higher wage and lower welfare economy where work is rewarded." It is a gloss that working people will find it difficult to recognise, and emphasises that the government is sorting out no problems in the economy, in the security of the people, but are pursuing the austerity agenda under the hoax that Britain must live within its means. This is a false and misleading analogy, both because the government is not investing in the means to generate wealth, neither is it cutting back on benefits to the rich.
In opening the debate on the Queen's Speech, leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, had this to say what is absent on covered over in the government's programme: "July will mark the centenary of the battle of the Somme, an episode of needless carnage and horror. This week marked the centenary of the Sykes-Picot agreement, in which Britain and France divided up the Ottoman empire into spheres of influence, arbitrarily establishing borders that have been the cause of many conflicts ever since. Those two events should remind us in this House of two things: first, the decisions that we take have consequences, and secondly, it is our armed forces that face the consequences of failed foreign and military policy. Our duty to our armed forces is to avoid the political mistakes that lead to their being sent unnecessarily into harm's way. As Dr Lee pointed out, the effects of war go on for the whole lifetime of those who take part in it."
The issue facing working people in the face of the 2016/17 legislative programme is how to effectively block the government acting in the interests of the most powerful monopolies and placing the burden of the crisis onto the backs of working people. The government sees no end to the crisis, and its rhetoric is that of "making Britain great" through being competitive on the global market, as well as big power intervention, in alliance or alone, in the affairs of sovereign nations. It is a matter of dictate of the ruling elite over the interests of the working people. The crucial thing to oppose this dictate, as well as holding the government to account, is for the working people themselves to chart the way out of the crisis, holding in their sights the necessity for a new society. In the first place, this means working for a change in the direction of the economy and society. It is not true simply that "austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity". Problems are not sorted out in the political and economic spheres through policy objectives, through wrong choices. Rather the issue is to build on the necessity to turn things around, to engage the working people in analysing and working to solve the problems in society: in the economic sphere by building sovereign national economies; in the political sphere by democratic renewal and working for the empowerment of the working class and people.
Jeremy Corbyn in his opening to the debate summed up the reality of the deprivation facing working people: "Perhaps the most worrying proposal of all is the decision to try to redefine poverty and deprivation. Apparently, it is all about instability, addiction and debt - all things that can be blamed on individuals about whom Governments like to moralise. Well, no! It is about 1 million people in our country using food banks, record levels of in-work poverty and the fact that absolute child poverty, after housing costs, is up by half a million. Poverty is up in disabled households on the same basis. Homelessness has gone up every year since the Prime Minister took office, and 100,000 children spent last Christmas in temporary, insecure accommodation. The causes of that are cuts to welfare benefits, cuts to employment and support allowance, the bedroom tax, the benefit cap, wages being too low, insecure jobs, and housing - whether to rent or to buy - being too expensive. We will not tackle poverty by moving the goalposts. Poverty and inequality are collective failures of our society as a whole, not individual failures."
It is clear that the working class movement must say No to this anti-social assault on the people, refuse to take the blame or be scapegoated, and instead fight to hold the government to account, and crucially work for a change in the direction of society and the economy. This involves the fight to safeguard the future of the health service and education, the fight to defend the rights of all human beings, and to frustrate the doctrine of "free-trade" which puts the right of the monopolies over the rights of peoples and governments. It is a vital necessity that the working class and people take up and strengthen the struggle to determine the future of society.
The Queen's Speech promised to "deliver security for working people, to increase life chances for the most disadvantaged". Yet this could not have been further from reality, when the government's legislative programme represents carrying forward the offensive against the whole working class and people, increasing the precariousness of their existence and driving the vulnerable further into poverty. It is a fundamental right of the working class to organise within this situation. This is a right which cannot be negotiated away. Yet the government is hell-bent on attempting to deprive them of this right.
As a Bill, the Trade Union Act 2016i was one of the most vigorously opposed, as it attempts to block the ability of the workers' movement to itself block the anti-social offensive and defend the rights of all. As well as opposition coming from the organised working class movement, the Bill was opposed within Parliament, with certain amendments from the House of Lords being accepted by the government. These included the attempt to stop trade unions collecting their union dues via the employers' pay system and other measures, including those to regulate information from social media of those taking part in pickets which were also largely unenforceable. However, the anti-worker thrust of the Trade Union Act 2016, alongside previous anti-trade union laws, still remains largely untouched. It is a malicious Act against the right to organise and the freedom of association, and must be repealed.
Provisions of the Trade Union Act
Intact in the Act are major additions to the previous anti-trade union legislation restricting the legality of strike action in Britain. In sections 2 and 3, the Act specifies a 50% turn-out of all the members eligible to vote in a ballot of a trade union for a strike to be lawful. In addition, for trade unions "normally engaged in the provision of important public services", the Act specifies that for a strike to be lawful 40% of all eligible members must vote "Yes" rather than a simple majority of those that return the ballot. Even a major attempt by the trade unions to amend the law so that they can e-ballot their members instead of having to use the very expensive postal ballots to increase the turnout was sidestepped and is to be referred to an "independent review", which will only be "commissioned within six months". As other commentators have pointed out, the "flagship" aspect and main purpose of this Act remains in place. Carolyn Jones, Assistant Secretary of the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom, pointed out: "The imposition of a 50 per cent turnout and an additional 40 per cent support requirement for workers in health, education, fire response, transport and border security, make it near impossible for those workers currently leading the resistance against privatisation and cuts to take industrial action."ii
Other major additions to the previous anti-trade union laws is an increasingly prescriptive question for industrial action ballots. Every action of the strike as well as the type of industrial action must be stipulated, as well as "the period or periods within which the industrial action or, as the case may be, each type of industrial action is expected to take place". The Act also demands the appointment of picket supervisors who must make themselves known to police and employers and carry a letter of authorisation. Breaches of any of the restrictions will in future attract criminal charges. The timing and duration of industrial action is also changed with the notice to employers of strike action, formerly seven days, extended to 14 days, and the duration of a strike without a renewed ballot reduced to six months. Thus these new measures deliberately make it extremely difficult for the trade unions to act against the tactics of employers and government, and facilitate the courts being able to rule against the workers.
In addition, new measures in the Act attempt to limit the ability of trade unions to organise in the workplace. Unable to justify the scrapping altogether of paid time off for union duties (facility time), the Act still enables interference by the state in the amount and cost of negotiated facility time for union representatives and threatens to bring further measures on this. Unable to scrap the negotiated check-off system, a system whereby trade unions recover membership dues directly through wages via the employer, after legal challenges from PCS and others unions the Act is still imposing financial charges for check-off even though many unions pay this where appropriate.
Of all the attacks one of the most significant is under sections 11 and 12 concerning the political fund, which specifies that a member must opt in to the union's political fund rather than opt out. It is the right of trade unions to make a collective decision to support, or not support, a political party. The fact that trade unions give the right to a member to opt-out of contributing to the political fund could also be considered a collective decision to harmonise these collective decisions of the trade union with the conscience of individuals. For the government to authorise the state to interfere in this arrangement is clearly a cynical move against the workers' right of political association. It is also a deliberate attack against any party that is supported by the trade unions and an attack that openly favours the monopolies and the rich in society. It is an attempt to sabotage the right of trade unions to act in a political way to defend their members. What the government refuses to recognise, wilfully or through class prejudice, are collective rights; the trade unions have come to collective decisions whereas the government would like their members to act as atomised individuals.
The Act also viciously interferes in the political affairs of the union in demanding that the trade union's annual return includes details of political expenditure on parties supported, candidates supported and almost every type of extra-Parliamentary activity to the Certification Officer. At the same time of course, whilst claiming that "employers' organisations" are covered by this, the state makes no move to interfere against the employers themselves. The monopoly corporations and rich individuals who extract huge profits from the labour of working people and use such funds to support parties that represent their interests without any opt-out, or opt-in, of their workforce. This shows in whose interests these new powers are being given.
New powers are also given by the Act to the Certification Officer which politicises this post against the trade unions with powers to investigate, initiate complaints against any national, regional and local bodies and branches of trade union enacting "enforcement orders" as well as compliance in administering the political funds. The Act states that "an enforcement order made by the Certification Officer under this section may be enforced by the Officer in the same way as an order of the court". The human rights organisation Liberty in its briefing on the Trade Union Billiii pointed out: "The cumulative impact of the new proposals would mean that the Certification Officer is responsible for making a complaint, investigating it, reaching a decision and setting a punishment. It is contrary to all notions of justice and best practice for each stage in a process of determining compliance with legal rules to be conducted by the one body. Taking this approach fundamentally undermines the fair administration of justice and the rule of law." In addition beside imposing this unjust extra-judicial legal sanction against the trade unions the Act under section 20, also imposes a levy on the trade unions to pay for the expenses of the officer in carrying out the functions of investigating, judging and imposing fines on them!
The role of the workers' movement
It has constantly been pointed out that there is no justice in these hated measures and that they come in the context of the increased resistance against the government's austerity measures, privatisation, cuts and attacks on the terms and conditions of working people. It is especially focused on the public sector at this time. The heroic strike struggle of the junior doctors relating not only to their pay and conditions but to the future of the health service which is being jeopardised is just one of the latest examples. The Act is an attempt to prevent the workers from bringing their numbers and organisation into play in this resistance, and is itself an abuse of power by the government for which they have no mandate.
The government also declared it a UK Act refusing the right of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies to reject the Bill, despite the opposition and the concern of such bodies as the Law Society of Scotland, who challenged the Bill's compatibility with human rights legislation.
The fact is that the workers' right to organise to defend their interests is already shackled in so many ways, many of them dating from the Thatcher government's anti-trade union laws. Not only the interests and dignity of working people are at stake, but so is the broad issue of the public good.
It is working people who are the producers of added value, of wealth in the economy. Indeed, the programme of the working class is a broad programme for defence of the rights of all, for a new direction for society and the economy, for a way out of the crisis and the capital-centred austerity programme, and for the alternative, a new society.
To achieve their aim of the complete dominance of their capital-centred system the government would like to wipe out the workers' movement in its entirety. Not only can this not be achieved, but the attempt, framed in hypocritical sentiments about the good of the country, of essential services, and working as one nation, is fraught with danger. Resistance is growing and what is required is to expose the criminal nature of the government's agenda and show how another narrative and political agenda is not only possible but the necessity of the times. The Act must be repealed along with all anti-trade unions laws.
ii The Trade Union Act Is An Unjust Law, And It Spells
Trouble Carolyn Jones - Assistant Secretary, Campaign For Trade Union
A new Immigration Act became law on May 12, 2016, when the Immigration Bill received the Royal Assent. The Act increases the government's already considerable powers to restrict immigration into Britain provided by the Immigration Act of 2014, which was deigned to create a "hostile environment", as well as by previous immigration legislation.
According to the government the new law was enacted in order to "tackle the exploitation of low-skill workers". Immigration minister James Brokenshire asserted: "Exploiting or coercing people into work is not acceptable. It is not right that unscrupulous employers can force people to work or live in very poor conditions, withhold wages or mislead them into coming to the UK for work. Some employers seem to think that by employing workers who are less likely to complain, including vulnerable migrants, they can undercut the local labour market and mistreat them with impunity. The unscrupulous need to know that breaking the law is a high-risk activity and the full force of the state will be applied to them."
However, the government has no such concern for low paid workers in general and prevents no measures to end their exploitation, neither is it concerned about the rights of exploited workers, whether they are migrants or not. What was also clear throughout the entire passage of the Bill was that it was opposed both within parliament and outside by those concerned for the rights of migrants and refugees. The Act will provide the police and other enforcement agencies with greater powers to harass working people and further criminalise migrants and asylum seekers. Indeed, one of the main features of the Act is that it seeks to establish in law that migrants can be considered and treated as criminals and imprisoned simply for being migrants.
The new Act will amongst other things:
This latest Immigration Act not only gives the government and other state officials greater powers. It also places the onus on citizens to police immigration with the threat of criminal conviction if they fail to do so. It appears designed to create mistrust and to create the conditions where whole communities can be targeted and discriminated against. The Prime Minister and his government have already been criticised for previous comments about the value given to the English language above all other languages, and the contention that an inability to speak English leads to the "isolation" of some communities and even the potential for "radicalisation". Such measures as the "Prevent" strategy for educational institutions target this so-called "radicalisation", and further facilitate the criminalisation of the right to conscience. In terms of the flourishing of languages, the government has reinforced the conception of a "host", or official, language. Now it has gone one step further since workers will be required by law to demonstrate proficiency in the English language. The fact that the Immigration Minister has stated that this legal requirement is to "promote integration and British values" confirms that the government has not deviated from its essentially racist course.
The British state and successive British governments have created all the conditions both for large-scale immigration from impoverished countries in Europe and globally, as well as the instability that necessitates many to seek asylum. What has been demonstrated in the new Immigration Act is that the government refuses to accept that migrants and asylum seekers are human, treat them as human beings and guarantee their rights. Rather it continues along the racist course of its predecessors, intent on criminalising not just migrants but entire communities and whipping up the most reactionary chauvinism.
This is an issue which must be widely discussed so that the ruling elite's racism and chauvinism do not prevail. The issue has been reaching a fever pitch with the hysteria created by both "official" sides in the EU Referendum campaign. The conclusion is that the democratic stand, independent of the racism and chauvinism of the ruling circles, of defending the rights of all as human beings must be upheld and fought for.
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