Anti-strike bill a ‘threat to all of us’ Corbyn tells Trade Union Congress

The new leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn. © Stefan Wermuth
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn described the Conservative government’s Trade Union Bill as a threat to British civil liberties in his address to the Trade Union Congress (TUC) annual conference on Tuesday.

Corbyn said if the bill is passed in Parliament, he will repeal it when he wins the 2020 general election.

He went on to say he would make the Labour Party more democratic, incorporating members’ views into policymaking.

Addressing the controversial Trade Union Bill, Corbyn said: “We will fight this bill all the way, and if it becomes law we will repeal it in 2020."

Basically they [the Conservative government] are declaring war on organized labor.”

He added: “Every difficulty gives you an opportunity. The difficulty is the Bill before us. The opportunity is that we can defend civil liberties. This is a threat to the liberties of all of us.

Corbyn also addressed the issue of striking workers’ social media accounts being monitored.

What kind of intrusive society are they trying to bring about?” he said.

The Trade Union Bill seeks to limit unions’ ability to organize legal strikes by requiring higher ballot thresholds, introducing fines for unions whose members do not wear identifying armbands when picketing, and allowing employers to use strike-breaking temporary workers. It passed its second reading in the House of Commons by 33 votes on Monday night.

In his TUC annual conference speech, Corbyn is expected to set out his party’s opposition to the controversial Trade Union Bill.

Angela Eagle, newly appointed shadow business secretary, said she was “dismayed that we have a government which believes in attacking trade unions rather than working with them.

It saddens me beyond words that we are here today dealing with the most significant sustained attack on trade unionists in thirty years.”

TUC leader Frances O’Grady told the conference the public support the right to strike because it is a “fundamental right.”

If David Cameron was really battling for blue collar Britain, he'd be fighting for stronger rights; to stop bosses getting away with pitting worker against worker to undercut pay,” she added.

Tory Business Secretary Sajid Javid said the bill is “not a declaration of war” against unions but an attempt to stop “endless” threats of industrial action at the expense of “hardworking people.”

He added the bill is designed to protect the low-paid and self-employed by making it harder for prolonged industrial action to be triggered by a “handful of workers.

Corbyn’s address will come as supporters continue to express disappointment over his choice of shadow cabinet, with Unite chief Len McCluskey telling the BBC on Tuesday morning he is concerned at the lack of women in top jobs.

McCluskey told BBC Radio 4: “I was slightly concerned that a woman was not in the top jobs, and I don’t mind saying that, it surprised me. I think it might be a mistake, although putting Angela [Eagle] in as first secretary maybe has balanced that.

The Labour leader has been criticized for giving the so-called four main jobs to himself, John McDonnell (Shadow Chancellor), Hilary Benn (Shadow Foreign Secretary) and Andy Burnham (Shadow Home Secretary).

McCluskey went on to say: “I think there is more than 50 percent of women in the cabinet, it is an interesting cabinet, but it is not true to say that I am unhappy.

Give the man at least a week,” he added.

The Unite leader said he is also increasingly concerned Cameron is trying to water down workers’ rights in his negotiations with the EU.

McCluskey refused to comment on whether Unite would ever campaign to leave the EU.

We will be looking very closely at the timing of the referendum and at what the prime minister is trying to do. If needs be we will consider calling a one-day policy conference to specifically discuss the European issue,” he said.

Corbyn has also come under pressure to clarify his stance on EU membership, with a referendum on Britain’s membership planned by 2017.


During Corbyn’s first address to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on Monday, an MP asked the new leader about EU membership.

Corbyn refused to guarantee the party would campaign to stay in the EU, contradicting Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn’s assertion on the Today program: “We will be campaigning to remain in the European Union in all circumstances.”

The Labour leader said he had concerns over the UK’s commitment to the working time directive and did not want to give Cameron a “blank check” during his renegotiation.