Applying Legal Leverage

Applying Legal Leverage

14 November 2013

Jim Sheridan MP, chair of Unite Parliamentary Group, writing in a personal capacity

I have been on record saying that I had some concerns about my union's leverage policy. But I have felt it necessary to write this piece today to explain how recent events have shown me what opposition to any form of political protest can lead to.

I am hesitant to bring up the case of Grangemouth once again, feeling that this episode has brought a massive right wing media backlash towards hardworking union members who were simply standing up for their rights. But this blight in the UK's industrial history showed what can happen when workers are not listened to and have no say in the running of the company. Ineos used the taxpayer and held the country to ransom, while destroying the hard won rights of hardworking and loyal employees.

We need an urgent reform in union rights. It is interesting that Grangemouth owner, Jim Ratcliffe, himself said that what happened there would not happen in countries such as Germany where a trade union member sits on the board. Let us contrast the behaviour of Ineos with that of BAE Systems, who treat their workforce and trade union leaders with respect. There is an appetite for more negotiation and consultation in these cases from all sides, but what we saw in this case was 'sign or be sacked'.

Now let's be clear about what happened when union members protested against this unfair proposal. Lies have been spread about the so-called leverage tactics. Column inches screamed about 'baying mobs' and 'children'. The truth is rather more simple - no laws were broken, all protests were silent and short, no kids were ever talked to. All that happened were a few leaflets were pushed through some letterboxes, and a few directors were asked to account for their decision to make Grangemouth a ghost town.

Protest is the oldest form of democracy we have and in Scotland we have a proud tradition of it: against the poll tax, Faslane and now the bedroom tax. And where would our country be if the suffragettes hadn't protested in favour of votes for women? We must protect the right of ordinary people to stand up for themselves and speak out against their oppressors.

And this is important now more than ever. We live in a country with very few employment rights. They were the worst in Europe even before this anti-union Government came into power. And this Government is trying to suppress all forms of opposition through the gagging bill coming through Parliament at the moment. Even campaigns to save the NHS or take on the bedroom tax will not exist if Cameron's regressive laws are passed. This is Government by Downton: we must all know our place.

Protest is fast becoming the last weapon ordinary people have. But Cameron is trying to suppress this, with his attack on leverage policy. Yet he tries to protect the rights of some of the press to do exactly the same thing: stand outside people's doors day and night and invade their privacy. It is hypocritical of the press that they have criticised Unite for doing what some of them call 'journalism' and it is hypocritical of the Prime Minister that he is suppressing this amongst decent working men and women while ignoring the more sinister sides of the press and big business.

Ask yourself this: who gains from all the right wing media attacks on Unite? It certainly is not you or your family. But it certainly is this Tory-led Government who are cosying up to the big business moguls that hide in the shadows of society.

So do not stand for it. Do not let employers take away your rights. Do not let Cameron gag your campaigns. And do not allow him to kill the oldest form of democracy. This Government stripped away your wages with austerity; don't let them strip away your rights too.