Reclaim our Rights

Bob Crow speaks in West London

Assistant General Secretary of the Railworkers’ Union, the RMT, spoke at West London Trade Union Club on Sunday 25 April in support of the Campaign to Reclaim our Rights.


He told the meeting that the Campaign was set up as the result of moves by the Socialist Labour Party, but with the intention that it should not be confined to the SLP but should, encompass a broad spectre of organisations and individuals – albeit without becoming so broad that it was flat. The organisation would play much the same role as the Liaison Committee played on behalf of trade unions in the 1960s after the publication of Barbara Castle’s

In Place of Strife,

to mobilise the rank and file and trade union organisations against this reactionary legislation. For a good many years the Liaison Committee played a good role, but after the miners’ dispute their activity fell away. Since about 1991/2, they have been inactive, their platform being ‘Let’s get a Labour government in’.

If we want these anti-trade union laws repealed, we must educate shop stewards and win over trade unions to Reclaim Our Rights. Of the four organisations which made up the United Campaign, 3 have now affiliated to us. Only the Liaison Committee has failed to affiliate to us, but they have very few members anyway. The meeting held at Central Hall. Westminster, last year was a tremendous day for us.

We have now got 10 national trade unions affiliated nationally, including the NUM, the RMT, NATFHE, the Fire Brigades’ Union, ASLEF, the Ceramic and Allied Trade Union, the Professional Footballers’ Association and UCATT. The Scottish Prison Officers’ Association may also affiliate, and become our 11th national union. The Liaison Committee never had that – only regional and local branches of unions. The TUC are on the one hand frightened of us, and on the other hand feeling guilty because they know that it should be the TUC mobilising the unions against these laws, but they aren’t doing it.

Fairness at work

The Labour government’s ‘Fairness at Work’ does nothing to make matters any better for working people. Even at the moment you can have 100% membership and still not have to be recognised by the employers. What must be understood, however, is that ‘Fairness at Work’ does nothing to make matters any better. The Wapping printers got sacked under a Labour government’s trade union legislation, not under Tory legislation. The new proposals extend maternity leave – very good: you can now have 3 months off – with no pay! Tribunals will be able to award compensation up to £50,000, but there is still no right to return to work after being unfairly dismissed. The tribunal is a court which, if you win, can order the employer to re-employ you. But it cannot force the employer to obey its instruction. This is quite unlike the courts which sit in judgment against the unions! When we ignore court orders, we get our assets sequestered. This is what should happen to employers, but oh no!

The new legislation supposedly gets rid of unions having to hand over lists of the names and addresses of strikers. Instead it substitutes a requirement that employers should be given all information they reasonably require: which of course will include – names and addresses of all strikers!

Rights denied

Rights in respect of unfair dismissal and redundancy should not be limited to those who have been in employment for a year. After all, workers are required from day 1 to pay their tax and national insurance. Why should they have to wait before they acquire any rights?

Collective bargaining

Collective bargaining is very adversely affected because it is legal to sack workers after 8 weeks of industrial action, even if it is only an overtime ban. After 7 weeks of industrial action the employer will, therefore, simply call in the union officials and tell them that if they don’t settle on the employer’s terms all their members will be sacked the following week.

The law will continue to offer no protection to workers for breaking their contracts of service when they are taking industrial action. Therefore the employer always has an excuse for sacking whoever he wants if there is any industrial action.

Collective agreements cover 95% of the workforce in France, 92% in Germany, 81% in the Netherlands, 66% in Spain, 48% in Britain (down from 83% in 1970) and 18% in the US.

These figures demonstrate how the government is going over to the American system and trying to reach the 40% threshold. The legislation obligingly obscures what is to be the ‘unit’ for collective bargaining purposes, and will create a whole host of court actions. Will the unit be the place of work? If so, what is the place of work of a journalist? What about mobile workers based at home? If the company is the ‘bargaining unit’, then even the Managing Director and the entire management become part of the workforce that has to be counted in determining whether there has been a 40% turnout in any ballot, before that ballot can be legal.

This is what we are told by a government that got in with only 32% support!

International law

Britain is an international law breaker. Its’ bombing of Iraq and Serbia are proof enough of this. But the government is also breaking the law in its own back garden by disregarding the requirements of the ILO, a UN organisation. The ILO Convention says that is a fundamental human right to go on strike. It also says no government should interfere in a union’s constitution. This is why even Switzerland has voted (by 53% to 47%) to allow the right to strike, though nobody could call it a bastion of socialism. But there’s no right to strike in this country!

Build the Campaign to Reclaim our Rights

We have made an excellent beginning. 800 union branches are directly affiliated to the Campaign, as well as 200 regional branches and 27 local trades councils. We shall go to the largest workplaces in Britain and ask their unions to call a meeting. We shall write to General Secretaries asking them to get their members to support the Campaign. If they are unwilling to do so, we will invite them to debate with us. We will call lunchtime meetings and explain to workers what it is all about. The TUC has done nothing. Some trade-union officials don’t even want the laws repealed: there would be a lot more work for them if they were! They would have to be fighting, instead of cosying up to the bosses.

We want to broaden out the Campaign to the whole of the trade-union movement. Isobel Larkin came from the TUC to one of our functions in order to spy on us and find out what we are doing. We told her she should could come openly, and speak from our platform. Our Campaign will end when the unfair laws are abolished. Our ambit includes the laws which make it illegal for prison officers to take any kind of industrial action. This is why the Scottish Prison Association has decided to affiliate.

1 May demonstration

We have produced an excellent news sheet for the demonstration on May 1st. It includes contributions from the General Secretaries of all our affiliated national unions as well as from Tony Benn. We will have 20,000 of these newspapers to give away. At the demonstration itself, a 40-piece brass band will accompany our banner, which will be held up by workers from Magnet, Hillingdon, Liverpool Dockers, Sky Chef, etc. We will bring home to people the need to fight for their rights.