The government is ‘shutting up’ and ‘shutting down’ all those who question it warned Britain’s largest union, Unite as it responded to today’s (Wednesday 2 March) House of Lords committee report on trade union political funds and party funding.
Accusing the Conservatives of marching towards ‘intolerant’ and ‘authoritarian’ government, the union urged ministers to heed calls from the Lords and act for the national interest not party self-interest.
Unite has repeatedly warned that the Trade Union bill is an assault on workers’ rights and called for the government to demonstrate a genuine commitment to improving workplace democracy by introducing safe, secure workplace ballots.
It says that the cross-party House of Lords’ report sends a very strong signal to the government to think again on its approach to trade unions.
The report, which points out that the assault on union funding was not made explicit in the Conservative manifesto, says that changes to trade union political funds, demanding that members opt in, rather than opt out, should only apply to new trade union members and not existing ones.
It also warns government ministers to seek an all-party consensus on political funding and says that there should be no change to the requirement on unions to ballot their members on their fund every 10 years; the government wants to cut this to five.
Commenting Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The Conservatives’ approach to trade union members is that they are the ‘enemy within’. That is an appalling message to send to six million workers but it is what drives this government’s attack on trade unions’ ability to stick up for working people.
“Thankfully the peers, who have taken extensive evidence, take a different approach. They have concluded that trade union political funds are an important contributor to a healthy democracy. Take them away and we are left with a gaping hole where there ought to be opposition, not for the sake of it but because all governments need to be held to account.
“These funds are not just about being able to shine a light on what government does. They also help unions campaign more broadly. How else can trade unions, for example, motivate working people to vote in the upcoming EU referendum if we have been gagged?
"In attacking these funds, and attacking the funding for all opposition parties, this government acts to shut up or shut down all those who dare question it. This puts British democracy in grave danger. It takes us back to the dark ages when only wealth and privilege could determine the laws of these lands.
“Under the Conservatives we are steadily marching towards intolerant and authoritarian government - and nobody voted for that. The peers are saying to the government do not go there. Think again. I sincerely hope that ministers listen, set down their dogma and act for the national and not party self-interest.”
Unite has been campaigning for the anti-union bill to be rejected by parliament as it will reduce the rights and representation of UK workers. The governing parties in Scotland and Wales have already said that they do not accept the bill's provisions. Unite has also called for safe and secure workplace balloting to be introduced as an essential step to improving workplace democracy.
For further information please contact Unite head of media and campaigns Alex Flynn on 020 3371 2066 or 07967 665869.
Notes to editors:
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.