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No justice for unions

On the eve of the Trade Union Congress conference in Britain, transport union leader Bob Crow has warned of a massive erosion of workers’ rights resulting from the decisions of the European Court of Justice.

“Anti-trade union decisions by the unaccountable European Court of Justice have undermined workers' rights even further than the Thatcher anti-union laws,” Crow said. Recent rulings by the ECJ “add up to the most serious attack on union rights since the Taff Vale judgement more than a century ago. The ECJ is an unaccountable and politically driven body which aims to extend the ‘internal market’ - that's privatisation to you and me - and its rulings effectively render the right to strike meaningless”, the RMT leader said.

The union’s statement points to ECJ rulings which undermine trade union efforts to prevent employers using immigrant workers as cheap labour and split the workforce. “The ECJ has taken upon itself the right to judge the legitimacy and the proportionality of a dispute and the effect on the employer,” it says.

The RMT rightly points to the historic issues involved in the Taff Vale judgement of 1901. Its own predecessor, the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, was fined £23,000 when it was held liable for losses the Taff Vale railway company sustained in a strike of rail union members. The reversal of this decision was only made possible when the trade unions elected members to Parliament in 1906 and the Trades Dispute Act was passed, granting unions immunity from prosecution. Crow says that unless the European Court rulings are rolled back, trades unionists “will be left defenceless against the EU's drive to liberalise markets and institutionalise social dumping”. He calls for “stepping up the campaign for a Trade Union Freedom Act and ensuring that any new UK Bill of Rights includes all ILO conventions, and... working with unions across Europe to demand the reversal of the ECJ's anti-union rulings”.

While Crow concentrated his fire on the unaccountable ECJ, other trade union leaders have attacked New Labour. Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of Unite, has accused up-and-coming Foreign Secretary and leadership contender David Miliband, of being “smug” and “arrogant”. And the normally pro-government Dave Prentis, head of Unison, Britain’s biggest union, has accused New Labour of pandering to big business. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber has called for higher taxation of those earning over £100,000 saying that extreme wealth was "socially divisive and morally objectionable". His statement accompanies a new TUC study Do the super rich matter? which compares the fortunes of Britain's wealthiest people with the largest estates left in wills in each decade since the 1850s. The wealthiest few in the UK now own as much, if not more, than their equivalents did at the end of the nineteenth century. The TUC points to how “this surge in wealth at the top has overturned the advances made in a century that saw the gap between rich and poor narrow as a result of progressive taxation, the growth of trade unions and regulation”.

The TUC’s report says that the super-rich have acted like Robin Hood in reverse – taking an ever larger share of the cake. But its leaders never point to the fact that the very essence of New Labour has been its shamelss embrace of corporate interests. It has championed the the very same billionaires who are now riding high on the hog in the City of London. And now, paralysed by the economic crisis, it is on the brink of handing over power to Cameron’s Conservatives.

The stark fact is that no parliament in its present form can or will legislate sorely needed basic rights or a fundamental change in the economy to shift wealth away from corporate interests. To ensure basic rights for ordinary working people requires a different type of parliament altogether. To achieve this means deconstructing today’s empty “democracy” and preparing political and economic alternatives – the aim of Stand Up for Your Rights Festival on October 18.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
8 September 2008

Fiona says:

In the run-up to the TUC conference we are beginning to hear the old 'return to the Winter of Discontent' refrain, in order to put the frighteners on the public. We need to resist this, and the notion we are also being fed, that inflation will rocket if public sector workers are given the wage rises they demand and need.

Phil says:

I agree with Corinna and Fiona. Also, it is a problem that trade unionism the world over is nowhere near being genuinely internationalist. All the TU leaders are hopeless on this, and Crow is certainly no exception. They all stand for 'British jobs for British workers'.

Anonymous says:

sadly in my area people do not even join a Union these days in case they get sacked. so sadly many people working in conditions you might call Victorian, but hell what do you expect when everyone is scared they will be sacked. what a world to live in.

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