An outrageous attack on the largest democratic movement in this country

Victoria Phillips is head of employment rights at Thompsons Solicitors

The Thompsons Solicitors Weekly Blog


The government’s targeting of trade unions by the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trades Union Administration Bill is, as Frances O’Grady of the TUC said at last weekend’s Tolpuddle Martyr’s Festival, an outrageous attack on the largest democratic movement in this country.


Listening to Norman Tebbit being interviewed by Peter Hennessey on the Radio Four programme Reflections, I was struck – not for the first time – by how David Cameron is seeking to go further than Tebbit and Thatcher for completely unformed and incoherent ideological reasons.


I don’t seek to excuse or support Tebbit’s anti-union sentiments and the pride with which he looks back on his industrial relations and trade union law reforms. But at least he put them in a hard, political context. Union leaders had, as he saw it, overthrown two government’s before Thatcher’s and he wasn’t going to allow that to happen again. His predecessor at employment, Jim Prior, had taken a conciliatory approach and everything Tebbit did was, he said, constructed around the belief that this wasn’t the right tactic.


By comparison, Cameron’s proposed reforms to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 are just vindictive.


Their purpose is to give “the general public” (as if trade union members are not members of the public) confidence that voting papers and other communications are reaching union members “so that they have the opportunity to participate, even if they choose not to exercise it”.


This is despite the fact that section 24(1) of the Act already requires unions to maintain a register of members’ names and addresses that is, so far as reasonably practicable, accurate and up-to-date.


The detail of the proposed reforms is complex – annual membership audits, new Certification Officer powers, enforcement orders, a requirement for unions with over 10,000 members to appoint an assurer, self-certification for smaller unions and exemption for new unions. It’s the very opposite of the Red Tape Challenge.


Oh what a laugh they must have had in Cabinet with that one.


At the most recent Unions21 steering committee (Tuesday), a new work stream on union influence on politics was initiated. Watch this space.