A restricted government document leaked to Socialist Worker shows that the Tories are in disarray over their anti-union Trade Union Bill.
The document, dated 26 January 2016, shows that the Tories expect the House of Lords to defeat "flagship" parts of the bill. Socialist Worker has a letter, marked “Official—sensitive”, from Nick Boles, minister of state for skills, to Oliver Letwin and Chris Grayling.
Letwin is chair of the home affairs committee and Grayling is chair of the parliamentary business committee. The letter is copied to David Cameron.
It “seeks clearance on essential government amendments to be made at Lords committee and possible concessions to the Trade Union Bill designed to ease handling in the House of Lords”.
It adds that “It may be necessary for my colleague baroness Neville-Rolfe to trail them at Lords committee in order to avoid losing a vote or unhelpful amendments to the bill."
The Tories desperately hope that minimal concessions will buy off the opposition.
But the revelations should be a spur to further struggle, not an argument for meekly accepting the suggested retreats.
Boles says that Labour and Lib Dem peers will put amendments to the bill and that the government may lose. Therefore the aim is to “make changes to the bill, without significantly defeating its primary purpose”.
Boles hopes that “a willingness to give some ground on certain aspects of the bill may lead to a less hard line response to the bill on other issues”.
The suggested concessions include:
- Conceding a review into whether unions should be allowed to conduct e-ballots for strikes. This is needed because “the threshold provisions (the flagship element of the bill) will be defeated if we do not make some move towards accepting the possibility of electronic balloting”. Boles made a point of saying there would be no date for such a review to report. He cynically said, “I would not propose that we should announce the period in which the review should report”.
- Setting up a procedure to consult (underlined in the original) the Scottish parliament and Welsh Assembly on the bill. In addition Boles suggests the government may have to retreat further in Scotland and Wales.
- Withdrawing the increase in the notice period for industrial action from seven days to 14 days.
- Increasing the time that a ballot is legally valid from four months to six months.
- Deleting the need for a picket supervisor to wear an armband and badge.
The Tories’ disarray should lift everyone as the TUC's week of action against the bill begins on Monday, tomorrow.
The whole bill can be defeated. Unions should demand that Labour and other parties accept no deals and oppose it in full.
And the only way to guarantee that is hard-hitting action now and a readiness to defy the law in the future.