Socialist Worker

Union leaders vow to take on Tories’ Trade Union Bill—but the question is how

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2465

The rally in central London last week

The rally in central London last week (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Over 400 people gathered in central London last Wednesday to oppose the Tories’ attack on trade union rights. 

The Tories are trying to ram through their Trade Union Bill to stop people striking. But union activists at the meeting were defiant—and so were the top table.

Unison union general secretary Dave Prentis said, “It’s only this movement that can stand up to them and oppose them.

“If we’re united, we can stop this bill.”

To rapturous applause PCS union general secretary Mark Serwotka called for mass action to defeat the attack. He said, “The best way to defeat the government is if we all strike together.

“We need to commit ourselves to have tens of thousands picketing in solidarity when the Tories try to criminalise the first strike or bus in scabs.”

Two debates underlined the meeting.

The first was whether to focus on stopping the bill or preparing to organise after it’s gone through. 

It’s always good to be prepared, and court challenges may not kill the bill. But mass action can stop it—despite many union leaders’ pessimism.


Unite union member Graeme told Socialist Worker, “I appreciate the rhetoric, but the leaders need to be prepared to go to the lengths that we are. There’s a real mood among the rank-and-file workers to resist”. 

The second argument was about left wing Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn.

In the run-up to the general election, union leaders pulled industrial action and told members to wait for Labour. Now they hope to rehash their failed mantra by backing Corbyn as an alternative to strikes. 

People loudly cheered Serwotka’s call to sign up as “supporters” of the Labour Party.  “Wouldn’t it be easier to oppose it in parliament if Jeremy Corbyn was Labour leader,” he said.

But with a Tory majority it will take more than parliamentary opposition to beat the bill. And we can’t afford to wait five years to take on the Tories at the ballot box. 

CWU union general secretary Dave Ward said that he would be backing Corbyn—and that he “frankly didn’t care” who owned Royal Mail. Its last shares are to be sold off this summer, completing its privatisation.

People calling for action got the biggest response.

PCS union rep Candy Udwin has been victimised by National Gallery bosses. Speaking from the floor, she told the meeting, “We’ve had a taste of what the laws would mean—and if we want to stop it we need to put action where words are. 

“We need to oppose and defy them and make sure the strikes that are going on now win.”

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