Writing in the Morning Star last month under the heading No Safety Without the Unions (links below), John Hendy and Keith Ewing of the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) argued that, in the absence of ‘proper consultation’ with unions on the return to work and a clear statement of the legal obligations on employers to safeguard employees returning to work while Covid persists, workers face the cruel dilemma of either risking their (and their families) health or earning a living.
In a better world than the one we currently inhabit, a union rep in any workplace where workers were at risk would be able to immediately withdraw workers, informing only the local management and secure in the knowledge that, if necessary, she could call on support from other workers in other workplaces.
This power for local trade union reps would immeasurably improve the lot of workers everywhere. What would it take? ‘Only’:
- the re-introduction with active government support of the ‘closed shop’ under which workers were automatically enrolled in a trade union and employers could not tamper with collection of dues by checkoff;
- the right to withdraw labour without notice and free from the threat of prosecution or damages under statute or common law, including the right to take secondary or solidarity action;
- abolition of all the anti-trade union laws that have been enacted by successive governments, Labour and Tory; and
- the re-introduction of collective bargaining.
The IER currently prioritises the last of these measures. Perhaps they are right to do so for tactical reasons. It is difficult to image a Keir Starmer led Labour administration adopting any of the other measures. Indeed, the first two would probably give most Trade Union General Secretaries sleepless nights! However, unless we press for them all – and by ‘we’ I mean the Communist Party, its allies and what’s left of the Left in the Labour Party – we will never secure them. The first step towards doing so – our very own Long March – is to articulate and call for them.