November 03, 2008

Barring the BNP

Amendments to the employment bill are vital in empowering trade unions to keep fascists out of their ranks

Tomorrow, MPs have the chance to strike a blow for social justice and represent society's abhorrence of racism and fascism. Amendments to the employment bill are coming before the Commons to restore to trade unions some of the rights lost during the long years of the Thatcher-neoliberal consensus (remember that?).

The central amendment, backed by the trade union group of MPs and the campaigning anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, seeks to reverse a decision in the Lords that restricts the right of unions to exclude or expel active fascists from our ranks.

The European court of human rights has found that the 1992 Tory trade union and labour relations act is in violation of the right to freedom of association under the European convention on human rights. Workers should be free to join a trade union without sanction, and so too should the trade union be free to choose its own members.

This amendment is vital if unions are to be able to exclude British National Party activists and other active racists from membership. As the economy slides into recession, experience teaches us that racists will most likely step up their activities and try and blame social problems on migrants or black people generally.

Trade unions are a bulwark against this poison. Our aim is to fight for social justice for all working people in unity. We will resist any effort to set workers against each other.

That is why active support for fascists and racists is, and should be, incompatible with trade union membership. Trade unions should be free to use their own democratic procedures, without state interference, to control the right to membership. Amendment NC6 will simply repeal Section 174 of the 1992 act, giving trade unions back their right to act against active racists and ensuring that UK law is in compliance with European standards.

Other amendments are scarcely less important if the industrial relations playing field is at long last to have a semblance of balance. Currently, the duties placed on trade unions to provide employers with notice of ballots and industrial action place are onerous, costly and excessively complicated. They expose unions to applications for injunctions by employers to prevent industrial action taking place, even where a clear majority have voted to support the action. A new clause will introduce greater fairness by cutting the "red tape" that unions face. Employers would be required to supply trade unions with information they need to comply with notice and balloting requirements.

All workers should also be protected from suffering detriment or being sued as a result of their taking part in industrial action, other than appropriate deductions from the worker's wages. A further amendment will mean that all workers have the right to take official industrial action free from the fear of dismissal or victimisation.

The International Labour Organisation has repeatedly found that UK law is in breach of international human rights treaties by failing to provide this protection. The effect of one amendment would be to establish that dismissals made in anticipation of, during or after lawful industrial action would be void unless the employer can show that the reason for the dismissal was unconnected.

Regulation currently bars employment agencies from supplying agency workers to carry out duties normally performed by a worker undertaking lawful strike action. A loophole in the law, however, means that this duty does not apply if the agency does not know that the agency worker is replacing a worker taking industrial action. A further amendment would close this loophole.

These are all modest measures, which perhaps, now that the days of deregulation as a panacea are past, MPs can finally adopt.


No comments: