On October 22nd trade-union activists from across the country gathered at a Conference in London organised by the United Campaign to Repeal Anti-Trade Union Laws. Speaker after speaker gave examples of their struggles against bad conditions at work, against privatisation in various sectors such as health and transport, etc., which demonstrated clearly the need to strengthen the campaign to rid the trade-union movement of the legislation brought in by the Tory Government and kept on the statute book by Labour. In particular, John Hendy reminded the Conference that Tony Blair had stated that he would continue to
“leave British law the most restrictive on trade unions in the Western world.”
The Labour Government are implementing such an onslaught on workers that one might have expected the participants in the Conference to be stridently angry with the situation – if the Tories had been as hostile to the working class as the Labour Government is now most of the Conference delegates would been in words and deeds suggesting ways of taking on their class enemy. Sadly, the terrible circumstances described by members from all the unions represented gave rise to comments that, instead of forcefully attacking the Labour Government and its allies in the leadership of most of the major unions, expressed dismay that their hopes of the Labour Government had not yet been met. It was left to Arthur Scargill, President of the NUM, to raise the spirits of the gathering when he spoke out clearly against both the Labour Government and trade-union leaders who in words claim to be on the side of the working class, but in deeds are not. We reproduce extracts from his speech below:
“At the TUC, when motions are put forward concerning non-compliance with anti-trade union legislation, 7 out of the 10 Unions who claim to support our Campaign (whose names appear on the leaflet for this function) either vote against or abstain. … The trade-union leaders, the bureaucrats, are afraid of losing their homes and expense accounts. What is more important – the principles, commitment and integrity of a trade-union leader or his ability to retain his job and all the comforts that go with it? I am still in contempt of court, but they can get stuffed. We have to defy laws that are unacceptable. Millionaire businessmen ignored the laws on Sunday trading, so why cannot the trade unions take direct action against practices that anyway are said to be in violation of international laws by the UN, ILO and the European Union Human Rights Acts?
“We need to be taking our protests to the streets. The young UCATT worker, who was sacked for trying to set up a trade union, could be reinstated in seconds if the Union had used its collective strength.
“This Government must be stood up to just like any other. Remember the 11th commandment – do not cross picket lines.
“In this Campaign we want unity – but not at any price. The TUC wants us to water down our demands and not defy the law. At present there is massive unemployment, problems in the health, education and social services, yet still the TUC refuses to back demands from workers in struggle.
“The TUC motion made me feel sick: ‘We welcome New Labour employment legislation’. No, I do not welcome it.
“We must wage a massive campaign. We have exchanged experiences from post office work
s, print workers, rail workers, but we must use this to build a campaign to win the hearts and minds of the workers in the trade unions. The tragedy on the railways should have given rise to a massive demand to bring back into public ownership the transport system.
“Comrades, we must set our sights high. Our movement must be as determined to inflict the same damage on their class, as they inflict on us.
“We must not allow May Day to be hijacked. We should set our sights on Reclaiming May Day – having a demonstration from the Embankment to Hyde Park and not be deflected by anyone. We should get young people to be with us in marching against the unlawful acts of this Government – be it their actions against trade unions or in bombing the people of Yugoslavia. May Day could become a rallying point for all those in support of human rights.
“Finally, there must be no more excuses from the TUC – they should give unqualified support to our campaign. It is not the rank and file who are failing to fight, it is the leadership who is failing. We want their deeds, not their words.”