Keir Starmer’s unearthed impassioned speech in favour of trade unions

Angela Rayner joins trade unionists in cost of living protest march

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Labour has pledged its support for trade unions with Sir Keir Starmer renewing calls for making it easier for workers to go on strike if the party wins the next general election. Labour has said it will do away with the “archaic” 2016 Trade Union Act, part of which allows employers more time to prepare for industrial action. The news comes as analysis has revealed the party receives millions of pounds in funding from trade unions each year. Sir Keir has in recent years attempted to side-step debate around trade unionism, especially after his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, became almost synonymous with the likes of Len McCluskey, the former Unite the Union General Secretary. But this hasn’t always been the case. 

In January 2016, speaking before he became leader, Sir Keir condemned the Trade Union Bill that was at that time making its way through Parliament, during a debate held by Camden UNISON, in his position as MP for Holborn and St Pancras. 

He said: “If you want to run a public service or a business, you need trade unions. If you’re negotiating with a trade union, it makes for a much better working environment and better outcomes for everybody.”

The bill would impede on trade unions, Sir Keir claimed, describing it as “purely ideological” as it does not serve a purpose. He added: “You have to ask yourself, what problem is this bill actually intending to solve? And there isn’t one. It is intended to strike simply at the heart of trade unionism and to extinguish the ability to take collective action.”

The Trade Union Act 2016 was introduced to balance the ability for workers to strike with a reduction in disruption while protecting against “undemocratic industrial action”. The Act stipulates that the ballot to decide whether workers strike must have a turnout of at least 50 percent. 

For those in “important public services”, such as transport and health, not only must it meet a majority of at least 50 percent turnout for the initial ballot but it must also have a 40 percent threshold of support to take industrial action from all eligible members. So, if 100 nurses were to strike, 50 of them would need to have voted and 40 of them to have voted in favour in order for it to be lawful. 

At the time, the bill was criticised as the biggest crackdown on trade unions in decades with the leader of the train drivers’ union ASLEF describing the Act as like that seen in fascist Germany. 

Over the past year, workers across different industries have gone on strike with 560,000 working days lost in August and September alone.

The RMT and ASLEF have led multiple strikes this year and are due to carry out more over the festive period. So too has Royal Mail with its CEO Simon Thompson telling Sky News that he believed the CWU were “doing everything they can to destroy Christmas”. 

Mick Lynch, Assistant General Secretary of the RMT trade union, speaking on Good Morning Britain in November, defended the rail strikes over Christmas as he said: “Our members are ordinary working men and women. They don’t get paid when they’re on strike and they make a sacrifice in order to defend their terms and conditions.” 

University staff, nurses, teachers, and various other workers are doing so as many demand better working conditions, job stability, and pay increases that match inflation which reached its highest rate in October in 41 years. 

In October, Sir Keir refused to support striking workers, instead claiming he wanted to be in Government to “resolve issues” while conducting a series of regional radio interviews. Speaking on BBC Radio Devon, he said: “I completely understand why people are concerned and are considering industrial action. 

“We’ve had wages stuck for many, many years because the economy hasn’t been working under this government. I don’t want the strikes to go ahead. My wife works in the NHS – the last thing that anybody who works in NHS wants is to go on strike.”

Now, the Labour Party – which has received £15million from trade unions since Sir Keir became leader, according to the Electoral Commission – has vowed to scrap the “archaic” Act and other “unnecessary elements” of trade union legislation. 

A party spokesperson said: “One example would be online balloting, not allowing online balloting, we don’t think that’s practical, we think it’s costly and we think that’s unnecessary.” 

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Conservative Party chairman Nadhim Zahawi slammed the pledge and this week said it is “beggars belief that Labour wants to relax laws to make it easier for their union paymasters to strike”. 

Speaking to The Telegraph, he added: “The 2016 Trade Union Act introduced minimum turnout thresholds for strike action and Starmer’s plan to scrap it would be a green light for Labour’s militant union backers to hold the country to ransom.

“Once again Sir Keir reveals he thinks his bosses are the union barons and not the great British public.”

Labour has, however, refused to promise it would revoke the new anti-strike laws that the Conservatives have proposed which could be introduced in the New Year. Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves said on Thursday, December 8, that committing to it now would be “jumping the gun”. 

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