Statement by Unite leadership contender on new Trade Union Act, which comes into force today

Theresa May’s Trade Union Act 2016 comes into force today, Wednesday 1 March. The legislation will make it significantly harder for workers to take action against their employers.

New ballot thresholds require a turnout of over 50%. In ‘important public services’ not only must a majority of voters support action, but 40% of those eligible to vote must vote ‘Yes’ too. Many MPs failed to get such an endorsement, even without the cumbersome ballot process unions have to follow.

The number of days’ notice unions have to give of a strike has doubled to 14. Striking workers are now required to nominate a picket supervisor in advance. Ballot mandates now expire after six months, or nine months by employers’ permission.

All of this will make taking industrial action more difficult.

Yesterday, on the eve of the Act coming into effect, Ian Allinson, the only grassroots candidate for Unite General Secretary, participated in a nation-wide strike at Fujitsu.

Ian Allinson with big group of pickets outside Fujitsu Manchester. Banner reads "Fighting 4 jobs"
Ian Allinson on Fujitsu Manchester picket 28 February 2017

The dispute at Fujitsu is over 1800 proposed job cuts across the UK, union recognition, pay, and pensions.

Allinson said:

“in our dispute at Fujitsu we have already had to adjust our plans because of the new law.”

“These laws are designed by a Tory government to make things easier for the employer. They are laws that make it harder for those fighting low pay, job cuts and attacks on pensions to resist.”

“Our unions cannot allow themselves to be shackled by these laws, we cannot allow this to prevent members defending their livelihoods. Ordinary members will find themselves outside the law. Unite should be prepared to back them and defy these unjust laws rather than see our members’ terms and conditions run into the ground. This requires serious preparation, now.”

“It’s important to say we would not be here today were it not for the pitiful campaign by the unions, including Unite, against the Trade Union Act”.

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Organising needs experimentation and sharing lessons

Lots of small fish turn on big fish

Ian Allinson, the grassroots socialist candidate for Unite General Secretary, argues that the union needs to build on the success of its organising strategy by doing more to involve lay members, support experimentation, and share lessons and successes.

Unite’s organising has been a success, helping to stop the decline in membership and increasing members’ power to win in many workplaces. But our efforts have not yet been sufficient to turn the tide or prevent the balance of power being tilted massively against workers, who generally face downward pressure on pay and benefits, and feel vulnerable to managerial whim and job insecurity at work; while housing, welfare and vital services are eroded outside work.

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Workers’ rights need fighting for

Pickets, banner reads "Job security, not 1800 job cuts"

As Unite members who are airport baggage handlers, check-in staff and cargo crew at Swissport and BA mixed fleet cabin crew join workers at Southern Rail, Crown Post Offices, Royal Mail’s Accrington Delivery Office and Weetabix in potential strike action over Christmas, while our own action at Fujitsu continues, backbench Tories are baying for ever greater restrictions on workers’ rights.

The United Kingdom has some of the worst anti-union laws in Europe, put in place by Tory governments and left in place by New Labour. While employers have the flexibility to make changes quickly, workers face innumerable obstacles if they want to resist.

If workers want to strike, complex notification rules create delays and opportunities for injunctions. The delays really matter, as many “perishable” issues become fait accompli before workers can legally take any action. In England, Scotland and Wales employers can push through even the biggest redundancies in just 45 days. Today my own employer, Fujitsu, informed reps that it proposes to make the first of its 1800 UK job cuts on 17th February in parts of the company where workers don’t yet have union recognition.

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