Tolpuddle, Thatcher, and the Worst Attack on Trade Unions in Thirty Years

This weekend in Tolpuddle, trade unions will march  and recognise the sacrifices of the Tolpuddle martyrs who were transported to Australia for standing up for their rights to be in a trade union. As always the Tories try to divide the workers. We must not talk of divisions of North and South, of Scots and English, of public and private. Let us remember that the real divide is rich and poor.

tolpuddle-martyrsGod is our guide! from field, from wave,
From plough, from anvil, and from loom;
We come, our country’s rights to save, And speak a tyrant faction’s doom:
We raise the watch-word liberty;
We will, we will, we will be free!

George Loveless

Margaret Thatcher attacked the working class, closed down mines, factories, and ultimately British Industry. Nearly everything these days is imported, having been produced by cheap labour in appalling working conditions. The globalisation started thus. She left behind a wasteland, destroying hope for ordinary people. She could only do this by silencing opposition, and that is why she launched an attack on trade unionists. (See TUC History on Anti Union Legislation)

Cult of Greed

Today, the Conservative Government’s war on trade unionists continues, with the greatest attack on trade union rights in 30 years. When the only means of food and shelter is through working for an employer, everyone hopes for work. It has now been announced that unemployment is rising, now the highest level for two years.

Ultimately, the only tool workers have is the right to choose conditions by which their labour is sold. Without the right to withdraw our labour, we have lost any self-respect and there is little difference to slavery. “They are an attack on our fundamental rights.”

Today’s proposals , The scale of the reforms goes far wider than the previously trailed plan for strikes to be made unlawful unless 50% of those being asked to strike vote in the ballot.

  • At least 40% of those asked to vote support the strike in most key public service. In the case of 100 teachers asked to strike, the action would only be lawful if at least 50 teachers voted and 40 of them backed the strike.
  • The double threshold would have to be met in any strike called in health, education, fire, transport, border security and energy sectors – including the Border Force and nuclear decommissioning.
  • Propose that unlawful or intimidatory picketing should become a criminal as opposed to civil offence and new protections should be available for those workers unwilling to strike. A named official will be required to be available at all times to the police to oversee the picket including the numbers on the line, currently set at six, in an existing code of conduct.
  • Compel unions to renew any strike mandate with a fresh ballot within four months of the first ballot and give employers the right to hire strike-breaking agency staff as well require a union to give the employer at least a fortnights’ notice before the industrial action starts.
  • Empower the government to set a limit on the proportion of working time any public sector worker can spend on trade union duties.
  • Give the government certification officer powers to fine trade unions as much as £20,000 for breaches of reporting rules including an annual audit on its protests and pickets. The certification officer will also have power to initiate investigations and will in future be funded by a joint levy of unions and employers
  • Require a clear description of the trade dispute and the planned industrial action on the ballot paper, so that all union members are clear what they are voting for.
  • Require all unions, not just those affiliated to Labour, to ask each existing union member whether they wish to pay the political levy and then repeat the question every five years. The £25m annual political fund income from 4.5 million political levy payers funds a wide range of political campaigning including being a chief source of funding for Labour.

Aslef boss Mile Whelan said: ” The Tories are trying to smash the trade unions because they know we are the only thing that stands between them, and the class they represent, and a return to Victorian values – tax cuts for the bankers and the brokers who brought Britain to the brink, for a very few at the top of the pile, and a life on zero hours contracts and the minimum wage for the rest of us.  ‘It is ironic that this Government, in the year we celebrate the civil rights brought in by the sealing of the Magna Carta 900 years ago, is determined to bring in a law which strikes at the democratic heart of this country.’

 “Unite is not going to see itself rendered toothless by passively submitting to unjust laws. If the Tories wish to put trade unionism beyond the law, then they must take the consequences.”Len McCluskey Unite general secretary

UNion Attack
 From BHeard Media

Under these rules 270  Conservatives would not have been elected, so it is one rule for the workers and another for the Tories. This must be opposed. The Labour Party must lead that opposition to these proposals loudly and convincingly. They must stand beside activists and trade unionists, and I hope all of the leadership candidates will stand with the workers. Let us see who does. Let us unite against this draconian government.

7 thoughts on “Tolpuddle, Thatcher, and the Worst Attack on Trade Unions in Thirty Years

  1. “Without the right to withdraw our labour, we have lost any self-respect and there is little difference to slavery.”

    What a stupid sentence. It is nothing like slavery, many jobs ar open in the UK – quit and find a new one if you don’t like it. Striking tube drivers are not £50,000 a year slaves, they are rent seekers the same as the bankers you hate.

    There are many good reasons to support trade unions, this article manages to make none of them whilst being yet another diatribe against ‘Facther’ – 1/10.


    • Not stupid at all. Families who could not afford to feed children during the National Strike in 1926, when Churchill wanted to trun the troops on them, would not see that as stupid at all. They were my ancestors, and if it was not for trade unions, our lives would have been very different. Self respect should not be denigrated, and if you cannot withdraw labour and collectively negotiate then you have no true freedom.


  2. Pingback: Labour Leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn, Speaking at Tolpuddle | Think Left

  3. Pingback: Workers Rights Attacked. Fight Back in Unity! | Think Left

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