The Trade Union Bill Isn’t Perfect, But Reform Is Needed

I’ve done nothing but write political pieces recently and to those readers who enjoy my theological articles, I apologise. I restart my Master’s degree tomorrow so I hope to get back into the swing of things soon: my theological musings will return soon enough. But for now, another political rant from your favourite Lib Dem.

I have a horrible feeling that I’m getting a reputation for being wholly illiberal amongst many of my peers within the Liberal Democrats; firstly I speak out against aspects of the European Union and now I appear to be siding with the Conservatives on their proposed Trade Union Bill. I’ve been watching BBC Parliament coverage of the debate since I got home from work this afternoon, mainly to see if Jeremy Corbyn did or said anything in his new and well deserved role as leader of the Labour Party. And he did! He wore a tie.

As the debate has gone on I’ve constantly found myself nodding my head at almost everything the Conservative MPs have said, and shaking my head at the Labour and SNP benches. Perhaps I’m in the wrong party after all? I posted a discussion thread to a Lib Dem Facebook group a few weeks ago asking the question as to the Liberal (note big ‘L’, not small ‘l’) stance on Trade Unions. The response I got was overwhelmingly unanimous on the view that Trade Unions were a fantastic thing and to suggest otherwise would be a Liberal (there it is again) heresy. And I agree. This country needs Trade Unions to protect the rights of millions of workers across the country, and as a party we should do everything to ensure that these unions continue to do the job they were created to do.

Let me be absolutely clear: I support only the following two aspects of the Trade Union bill. The proposals to make it obligatory for people on the picket line to disclose their details to police is an absolute infringement on civil liberties and ultimately is an attack on a worker’s right to strike. As a Liberal Democrat, I oppose this notion and if I were sat in the Commona debating the bill, I would request amendments be made before voting in favour.

I’m not a member of a Trade Union despite the fact I work in education, and have done for the last two/three years. Firstly, I absolutely hate the fact that the Trade Unions donate money to the Labour Party; I will not join a union because I do not support the Labour Party. Secondly, I do not want to be part of an organisation that can hold the country’s public services to ransom in the event that something doesn’t quite go in their favour.

The right to strike is a key part of a liberal society and I don’t think anyone would disagree with me. The Conservatives’ new bill does not want to make strike action illegal or make it so that workers’ rights are not upheld, more it is attempting to ensure that every single worker in the country regardless of whether they belong to a union or not, is protected from the enormous disruption caused by public sector strike action. This bill wants to make it possible for agency workers to be used to attempt to reduce the disruption caused and it wants to make sure that 50% of a union’s members vote in favour of action before it can take place; slightly ironic given the Conservatives’ record on other types of electoral reform (you read my piece on PR, right?)

Labour are right to object to the bill on the grounds that it demands workers on the picket lines to disclose their details to police, and you could even say they have their own interests at heart when they challenge the changes surrounding party funding. As I said at the beginning, the former is an absolute reason to challenge the bill; the latter not so much. I don’t agree with union membership fees going to the Labour Party unless the member in question agrees with the Labour Party’s aims and principles.

It is right to allow public sector workers to demonstrate their discontent with working conditions and sanctions imposed by their employers, but it is also right to look out for every other worker whether in the public or private sector who is adversely affected by industrial action. The Labour Party seems concerned only with union employees and it speaks volumes that every Conservative MP has repeatedly made the point that the bill is to protect everyone; a point that after three hours of viewing, has yet to be answered by Labour MPs.

I don’t think to support aspects of this bill is illiberal or ilLiberal. Just because the Liberal Democrats are in opposition, it doesn’t mean we have to oppose every piece of legislation passed by the Conservatives. To be a Liberal Democrat is to look out for the rights and interests of everyone in the country; the Trade Unions do that very well for their employees, but who looks out for those affected? At the moment, it looks like it’s the Conservatives.

So yes the bill is far from perfect, but it’s clear that reform of the unions is needed so as to ensure that people who do not belong to the unions are protected from the huge disruption caused by strike action.

Read the bill here:

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