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Tory Trade Union Bill 'must have Disraeli and Churchill spinning in graves'

Published 16/09/2015

Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti is accusing the Government of an attack on rights and freedoms
Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti is accusing the Government of an attack on rights and freedoms

The Government has been accused of a "spiteful" attack on rights by pressing ahead with its controversial reforms to union strike ballots, funding and picketing.

The director of civil rights group Liberty hit out at measures in the Trade Union Bill, which received its second reading in the Commons this week.

Shami Chakrabarti told the TUC Congress in Brighton: "The new Trade Union Bill and imminent threat to the Human Rights Act represent a spiteful and ideological attack on rights and freedoms that must have Disraeli and Churchill spinning in their graves.

"Forcing dissenters to wear armbands? Forcing them to register with the police? Has this Government no history or imagination?

"These attempts to divide, rule and dominate ordinary people in different sectors of the economy and different parts of the world are neither democratic nor conservative, and I urge all thoughtful "one nation" parliamentarians to defeat them.

"Government as legislator is simply abusing its power over the statute book to allow it to abuse its power as a big employer. If it wants to avoid disruption to public services it should look after its work force, not make pathetic attempts to demonise it in the eyes of the rest of the people.

"How would it be if there could only be six people on a pro-countryside demonstration or if shareholders or consumers were restricted from collective action against investment in apartheid South Africa?

"Why should anyone need permission for their freedoms of association and expression including on social media?

" It is the same authoritarian instinct motivating the Government to scrap our Human Rights Act and even to pull Britain out of the Convention on Human Rights."

She told delegates that women would be the biggest victims of the Government's " onslaught" on freedom.

"Trades unions fought for women's votes, pay and better workplace conditions. Human rights laws protect them from rape and trafficking, deportation and discrimination. Let's be clear that women would be amongst the greatest victims of this Government's onslaught on freedom and we must not let it succeed."

Unions have pledged to campaign against the Bill, which introduces a threshold on strike ballots, changes to the way unions collect their subscriptions, and allows firms to hire agency staff to replace strikers.

Protests and demonstrations will be held, including a huge rally outside the Conservative Party's annual conference next month.

Unions are also planning a day of co-ordinated action, and have warned of legal and industrial action to defeat the Bill.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "None of these changes are about banning strikes but we need to get the balance right between the interests of unions and the interests of the majority of people who rely on important public services.

"These modernising reforms will ensure strikes only happen as a result of a clear, positive decision by those entitled to vote.

"Since 1992, the Statutory Picketing Code has recommended that a trade union should appoint a supervisor for each picket, who would be clearly identifiable to the police, such as by wearing an armband or a badge."

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