Building the fight against Tory anti-trade union laws

A new wave of austerity is set to be accompanied by new attacks on our trade union rights

Commentary icon28 Oct 2022|Comment

Sarah Woolley

General Secretary, BFAWU

As we go through the circus of the “coronation” of Rishi Sunak as the third unpopular Tory prime minister in three months being imposed upon us, across the labour movement we should be clear in understanding that the Tories have always held trade unions in contempt, and always will.

The reasons for this are simple at their core — we, as trade unions, empower workers to stand together collectively to demand better and support them in doing so, which goes against the key Tory ethos of helping the rich get richer whilst the working class should be “knowing their place,” both in terms of the workplace and broader society.

The new proposed round of anti-trade union restrictions from the Tories were initially set out by the now-departed Liz Truss over recent weeks and came on top of Boris Johnson pushing through changes in his last days in government to the law that allowed employers to use agency labour to break a strike.

Included amongst them are an intention not only to abolish the Working Time Directive but to impose on striking unions a minimum service requirement. Combined, they represent a clear further attack on one of our fundamental human rights — namely the right to strike.

There should be no illusions that the Tories will stop attacking working people and their rights. Anti-union measures of the kind outlined above are still almost certain to be part of Sunak’s “austerity 2.0” approach to government, following his coronation as Prime Minister on Monday.

The ongoing wave of Tory attacks on our trade unions — which are also accompanied by daily verbal attacks in the House of Commons, media and beyond — clearly represent the Tories flexing their muscles in an attempt to remind working people who is in charge.

They are likely to focus on making strike action more difficult and supporting employers to strike bust, in line with the Tories recently increasing the powers of the Certification Officer in what we can only presume is an attempt to strangle trade unions financially.

Yet out there in the real world, working people are starving, are worrying about what is still to come in the deepest cost-of-living crisis in generations, and are being pushed further into poverty, relying on foodbanks and charity to survive.

And this situation is going to be made far worse, as Sunak and Jeremy Hunt are united in agreeing austerity will be imposed on the British people without any democratic mandate whatsoever.

The deep economic and cost-of-living crisis also helps explain the Tory attacks on our trade union rights, which come alongside broader restrictions on our right to protest and resist, including through the Public Order Bill.

Already, the Tory agenda is increasingly unpopular and divisive, and it will become all the more unpopular in the weeks and months ahead as further cuts bite.

In this situation, they have decided to attack our rights alongside a divide-and-rule agenda based on further demonisation of minorities, as well as striking workers and protesters.

But the reality is the Tories are in trouble, and we can beat back the Tories’ attacks on our rights.

In particular, it’s important to realise they are well off the mark with the new round of trade union restrictions when it comes to public opinion — public support for strike action over the summer has been strong and solid, and people will continue to provide this support when they can see workers fighting back.

Through our collective action, we can not only defeat new attacks, but win better wages terms and conditions, and smash through the restrictions in place.

What the Tories and their billionaire backers need to recognise is that they may be in government, but we in the trade unions are over 6.5 million working people strong, growing and realising that we have the power to win change.

Going forward our message in taking on the Tories and their anti-trade union agenda is clear — keep organising, keep agitating, keep winning, and most importantly keep standing in solidarity with each other.

Join us at the major conference on campaigning for free trade unions on December 3 to be part of this fightback, mobilising and supporting a major trade union campaign to fight against attacks on workers’ and union rights.

National conference: From Pentonville to P&O: union rights and Tory wrongs — campaigning for free trade unions, Saturday December 3, 11am, Mander Hall, NEU Mabledon Place London WC1H 9BD.

Speakers: Frances O’Grady, TUC, Dave Ward, CWU, Kevin Courtney, NEU, Jo Grady, UCU, Mark Serwotka, PCS, Mick Lynch, RMT, Mick Whelan, ASLEF, Barry Gardiner MP, John McDonnell MP, Professor Keith Ewing, Lord John Hendy KC, Ben Chacko, Morning Star, Matt Foot, Lawyer & writer, Andy Green, CTUF and Unite EC, Nabeela Mowlana, Young Labour, Laura Pidcock, the People’s Assembly and more, including workers in dispute. Chairs: Tony Burke, CSEU and Sarah Woolley, BFAWU. Hosted by the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom and supported by the Institute of Employment Rights.

Visit for more information.

This article was originally published in the Morning Star. We thank them for their permission to reproduce it here.