‘Draconian’ new strike laws could bankrupt Labour – union chiefs

People hold placards at a rally in Guild Hall Square in Londonderry March 13, 2015, as public services in Northern Ireland are being disrupted by one of the biggest public sector strikes in years. (Reuters/Cathal McNaughton)
Union bosses have accused the government of attempting to starve the Labour party of funds, as the Conservative Party unveils the biggest crackdown on trade union rights Britain has seen since 1985.

Legal reforms proposed by the majority Conservative government include the criminalization of picketing, as well as cutting off union funds traditionally channeled to Labour.

Under present regulations, all that is required for picketing in Britain is for a majority of trade union members to back industrial action by vote.

But the new Trade Union Bill will require at least 40 percent of those eligible to vote to back industrial action, while demanding a minimum turnout of 50 percent.

Additional new measures also mean that workers will have to ‘opt in’ to political levies, which are usually paid into Labour coffers and provide the party with a large amount of its funds. Observers say this will restrict the use of agency staff to cover striking workers.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid said the new laws were a “key commitment” from the Conservative manifesto, but union leaders say the measures were an unnecessary assault on workers’ rights.

TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady warned the bill would “shift the balance of power in the workplace.”

READ MORE: ‘Orwellian’: Tory move to criminalize dissent strategic & unjust, say union chiefs

"These new restrictions on facility time will make it more much difficult for trade unions to solve problems at work before they escalate into disputes,” she said.

"Making it a criminal offence for seven people to be on a picket line is a waste of police time and not something you would expect in a country with a proud tradition of liberty.”

GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny added that these “draconian” laws were intended to “damage Labour.”

"It is clear that the Tory Party High Command intend to make the Labour Party bankrupt by cutting off the main source of funding that they have relied on since the 1930s," he said.

"This is a completely one-sided approach to party funding. There are no proposals to force companies to ballot shareholders or to place a cap on donations from wealthy people when funding the Tory Party."

As well as forcing members to opt into the political levy system, the Bill will make unlawful picketing a criminal rather than civil offence.

The legislation will also give the government the power to regulate the amount of time any individual worker can spend on trade union business.

Dave Prentis of UK union Unison said the legislation is “spiteful”, and would make it more difficult for workers to challenge the behavior of their employers.

Javid defended the measures, however, saying that the government needs to balance the rights of trade unions with those of businesses and working people.

"Trade unions have a constructive role to play in representing their members' interests but our one nation government will balance their rights with those of working people and business,” he said.

"These changes are being introduced so that strikes only happen when a clear majority of those entitled to vote have done so and all other possibilities have been explored."