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Conservative Members consider that my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has created a sensation and performed a volte face by conceding the workers' right not to belong to a union. That right, in fact, already exists, but it has not affected the 100 per cent. union membership in areas where such membership is traditional. The social charter--which, incidentally, would not give workers at GCHQ the right to join a trade union--has little to do with the position, which is due to a more
Column 64significant and fundamental development : the movement away from the idea of immunities towards that of positive rights.
Britain is the only industrialised country in the world with no constitutional right to strike, no right to join a trade union, no right to trade union recognition--and there is no point in joining a union if it is not recognised--no right to collective bargaining and no right to information and consultation. Instead of those simple, basic rights, we have an increasingly unsatisfactory system of immunities. Under our common law, all trade union activity represents an unlawful conspiracy in restraint of trade, but statutes have given us immunities in relation to action taken in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute.
Unfortunately, the definition of a trade dispute has become so hedged about and restricted that collective action is now virtually impossible. Any union trying to take such action will almost immediately find itself ensnared by the law. It would be far better to move away from all that, and to devise a clear, comprehensive set of positive rights to enfranchise workers so that their citizenship does not end when they enter the workplace. They should have the right to strike, which should mean the suspension of their contract of employment so that they cannot be sacked if they take strike action. That is the arrangement in virtually every other industrialised country.
The right to join a trade union also embraces the right not to do so, but that need cause us little concern. As we have seen, the right not to join has already existed for 10 years as a result of the Conservative party's efforts, and has had very little effect ; we can live with it quite happily and easily. The right to join a union, however, will be of enormous value and will mark an enormous change. We must ensure that amendments are tabled providing such a right, or else exposing the one-sidedness of the Bill.
At present there is no protection against denial of access to employment on grounds of union membership ; to gain such protection would constitute an enormous victory for unions and workers. It is very unlikely that anyone has suffered in the past 10 years because of not belonging to a trade union, and I should like the Minister to give us the name and address of anyone who has. We know, however, that thousands have suffered because of belonging to a union : D. C. Thomson in Dundee, along with many other firms, requires employees to sign a document stating that they are not union members.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield has said, we want to deal with the pre-entry discrimination imposed by blacklists from such organisations as the Economic League, which often gives employers information that is biased and untrue. They tell employers not to employ certain people because they are union members, and that must be outlawed. I hope that victims of such pre-entry discrimination will be able to go to a tribunal and obtain heavy damages from such employers.
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill) : I noticed the Minister shaking his head when my hon. Friend said that people could be refused jobs on grounds of trade union activity. Have not two attempts been made in the House to make blacklisting unlawful, and did not the Government oppose both?
Column 65Mr. Leighton : My hon. Friend has made a good point, and I pay tribute to her work in exposing such blacklists since she has been in the House.
Mr. Janman : I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman with great interest. As my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) has explained, the lists produced by the Economic League catalogue people who are intent on causing disruption once they have gained employment. Why does the hon. Gentleman seem to believe that causing disruption and being a member of a trade union are automatically synonymous?
Mr. Leighton : They are certainly not synonymous. I do not know why Conservative Members are so shy of our looking into the matter to ensure even-handedness. My hon. Friends will table amendments in Committee for that purpose, and, if the Government are not prepared to grant that even- handedness, they will be pilloried and exposed. Fewer and fewer industries employ a huge number of workers. As far as I know, only one factory in the Greater London area--the Ford motor company--employs 1,000 workers or more. More than 90 per cent. of firms employ 25 or fewer, often in office-based, high-tech services, and it is difficult for unions to exercise industrial muscle in such circumstances. It would be far better to enfranchise those workers with positive rights. That will extend their freedom and such a policy will be very popular, and will aid the unions. We must press our amendments to insert the necessary measures in the Bill, for--as will become clear--the Labour party stands for real rights for workers.
We have already warned that, if official action was made virtually impossible, the result could be an increase in the number of unofficial strikes. Now the Government are trying to legislate to prevent unofficial strikes ; most organisations, however, have experienced no unofficial strikes for years. Such disputes are usually spontaneous and of short duration. They are often the result of a deeply felt grievance--over health and safety, for instance--and are generally resolved very quickly. If it were possible to legislate to prevent such action, it would have been done years ago. The Bill lays down a convoluted, largely impracticable procedure instructing the unions to police and discipline their members. The Government are schizoid in this regard. Previous legislation took away a union's authority to enforce its rules after a strike ballot, but now the Government have performed a U-turn : they want unions to act authoritatively, as policemen. Clauses 6 and 7 are particularly disgraceful, mean, nasty and vicious, for they allow and encourage the targeting of individuals and the victimisation of prominent trade unionists. Lech Walesa, for instance, would be caught immediately by such legislation.
In 1978 Lord Dilhorne ruled that selective sackings amounted to unfair dismissal--and so they do. The Bill changes the law to enable employers to do precisely that. Instead of equity, equality and fair treatment, we see an intent to isolate and victimise prominent trade unionists. That is unfair : it discriminates between individuals, treating some as fish and some as fowl. Some will be singled out vindictively and punitively to have their livelihoods taken away. An unscrupulous employer could--as Rupert Murdoch did--provoke and engineer a strike or other industrial action and then pick and choose whom to re-employ. That
Column 66would be a licence for victimisation, with no right of appeal. The word for that is tyranny. That is what is being proposed. The Government would make martyrs of them. They ought to remember the case of the Pentonville Five before they go down that route. As for unofficial strikes, we all remember the episode that gave birth to the strikes on London Underground. Mr. Roger Straker, the personnel director of London Underground, was interviewed by Personnel Management in October 1989. According to Jane Pickard, who reported on what Mr. Straker said in his interesting interview : "It may sound as if he is indulging in jokey understatement when he confides that the recent tube strikes were triggered by a breakdown in communication, but he is, in fact, making a blunt admission of management failure."
The report continued :
"He acknowledges that part of the problem both then and in the run-up to the dispute was a poor management structure."
According to the report, Mr. Straker said :
"We were caught unawares--and I think the unions were caught unawares."
It was not that the unions were agitators, stirring up people ; even the unions were caught unawares. He also said :
"We knew there was some discontent, but had not appreciated the momentum. Looking back on it, the major weakness on the management side was lack of awareness of how strong the feeling was. But I think we have to look at how we avoid that happening again."
The reason for trouble on London Underground was bad management. There was also bad management on British Rail, which caused trouble. However, that was official. British Rail's personnel manager got the sack because of bad management.
It is wrong to move from the particular to the general and to legislate because of management failure in one case. To amend our law so as to allow the unscrupulous employer, anywhere, to victimise an individual worker would be shameful. The Labour party ought to oppose it with the utmost vigour.
Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford) : I am privileged to be the first on this side of the House to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler). It was his first speech from the Back Benches in 16 years. That is a remarkable track record. It demonstrates my right hon. Friend's contribution to the work of the House, both in government and in opposition. My right hon. Friend continued the style that he set when he was on the Front Bench in the delicacy and sensitivity with which he congratulated my right hon. and learned Friend the new Secretary of State for Employment on introducing his incubus.
My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the difference between the way in which this Government have dealt with employment legislation over the years, on a bit-by-bit basis rather than on the one big chunk basis, as happened in 1970-71. The mistakes that were made then have been well learnt. Consequently, we have a far sounder basis for dealing with industrial relations on a wide front. With my background in manufacturing industry, I welcome the changes and the stability that it has brought to a large sector of manufacturing industry.
Column 67Mr. Shepherd : Light engineering.
I am mindful of Mr. Speaker's strictures in asking for short speeches. I shall therefore deal with just one narrow but important point that I do not believe is covered by the Bill.
Early last summer, NALGO was in dispute with its employers. It chose to take action in the Hereford constituency in a rather curious way. A firm of large poultry producers, Sun Valley Poultry Limited, is in my constituency. It is obliged by law to employ on its premises poultry meat inspectors who are actually employed by the local authority. In this dispute, NALGO's local organisers decided that the best way to pursue their action was to withdraw the poultry meat inspectors' labour from Sun Valley Poultry Ltd. The firm was therefore unable to discharge its statutory obligations regarding poultry meat inspection. Its operations were subsequently put into jeopardy.
Not unnaturally, the firm took legal advice about obtaining an injunction to stop that action. The answer, I am afraid, was no. It was perfectly clear to me that there was a loophole in the law that enabled a curious, convoluted form of secondary action to be taken which was every bit as damaging as the secondary action that is referred to in the legislation and that has been dealt with by past legislation.
I took up the matter with Ministers in the Department of Employment and was pointed to the case of Barretts and Baird (Wholesale) Limited v. IPCS where the employers had succeeded in obtaining an injunction against NALGO officers who were the meat inspectors of the Meat and Livestock Commission. That, however, was on the basis of lightning strikes. In this instances, there was a long-distance strike. The advice was that there could have been a different judgment if there had been a long strike rather than lightning strikes.
When the matter was referred to counsel who was expert in employment matters he expressed a
"clear view that it did not make a difference and that cases subsequent to the Barretts case had made the position worse." Counsel's clear advice to Sun Valley Poultry Ltd. was
"that there was nothing that could be done."
I asked that this point should be taken into account, but when I looked at the Bill I could find no mention of it. It may be that as I am not a lawyer I was unable to spot it in the phraseology of the Bill. I hope that when he winds up the debate my hon. Friend the Minister of State will tell me whether that contingency is taken into account. If it is not, will he undertake to consider the matter between now and the time when amendments to clause 4 can be tabled? If appropriate, I hope that he will consider tabling a new clause to take that point into account.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State reiterated the assertion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield in his Green Paper of March 1989 :
"in general, there is no good reason why employers who are not a party to a dispute should be at risk of having industrial action organised against them."
It cannot be fair that a small group of employees of a different employer should be able to jeopardise the livelihood and activities of the biggest employer in my constituency. That cannot be correct. Therefore, I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to take this opportunity to legislate and not to allow this state of affairs to continue for a moment longer.
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Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof : "this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Employment Bill which, whilst it makes welcome provision to make unlawful the refusal of access to employment on grounds relating to trade union membership, nevertheless fails to make any provision for the improvement of good industrial relations, but rather through its proposed amendments to the law relating to strikes and other unofficial industrial action will only serve to embroil employers and employees in further confrontational legal dispute, to the detriment of industrial harmony."
Towards the end of his speech, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) set out a list of measures that he foresaw as developments in industrial relations in the 1990s. I would not quarrel for a moment with anything in that list. What troubles me about this Bill is that a major part of it remains a Bill for industrial relations in the 1980s. It contains an unnecessary measure of kicking the trade unions when they are already down and do not need any further kicking, and fails to take the opportunity of starting the 1990s with a Bill for the 1990s.
There can be only one justifiable reason for an Employment Bill--to enhance good industrial relations. If the Bill contained some of the measures outlined by the right hon. Gentleman, introduced changes that would encourage significantly employees' share ownership, included provisions for more effective works councils and aimed for increased partnership between workers at whatever level in the company from the shop floor to the board of directors to involve them in the activities of the company, it would almost certainly have our complete support. But unfortunately it fails to do that. It does not even address improving the administration of trade union procedure--for example, simply by ensuring that all strike ballot forms are sent to the homes of trade union members rather than there still being an option for ballots to be sent either to members' homes or to the workplace.
It is important that we accept the need for an effective trade union movement to protect the interests of trade unionists against oppressive, unfair and mean employers. We should aim for a trade union movement which is ever more effective in ensuring that services are provided which members need. In particular, it should provide a service when employees have been injured or if they feel that they have been unfairly dismissed. In that context, the Government and the Labour party--the Labour party was responsible for starting the iniquity--should agree that legal aid should now be extended to industrial tribunals so that workers at all levels can have proper remedies and effective representation available to them if they claim to have been unfairly dismissed.
During part of the Secretary of State's speech, I heard from behind and around me some dinosaur-like noises about the closed shop, The Labour party really has to recognise that the closed shop is part of its dinosaur attitude to trade unionism. By arguing for the maintenance of the closed shop, Labour Members are giving the trade unions dinosaur food, while the climate changes and kills the dinosaurs.
The trade unions do not need a closed shop to be effective. They have other advantages that sell their membership to those who might join them. Like right hon. and hon. Members on all sides of the House, I encourage people to join trade unions if there is any risk of their being
Column 69injured at work or unfairly treated by their employers. If they are in doubt and they ask me, I always say, "Join a trade union because it is a good thing to be a member of a union or a professional body which looks after your interests at all levels and at all times, and is prepared to negotiate for you." Trade unions do not need the closed shop. The closed shop is about as relevant today as compelling all adults to attend religious worship on Sunday whether they like it or not. It has no more logic than that.
We welcome the introduction into an Act of Parliament of a new right--the right to choose whether or not to be a member of a trade union. What troubles me as I listen to the reaction of Labour Back Benchers around me as I speak is that, whatever the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) says, he is hotly opposed on his own Back Benches, in his own party and in the trade unions that support some members of the Labour party. The Labour party has no well understood and genuine interest in improving trade union law. Its interest is in protecting trade unions, be they dinosaurs or not, at least as much as protecting the workers. I join the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield in saying that we should move into the 1990s and aim for trade union structures that really protect working people and ensure that they have as much incentive as managers for their workplaces to be profitable and safe.
I hope that I have made it reasonably clear that we support the abolition of the closed shop. I come to what in our view are severe flaws in the Bill --fatal flaws, at this stage at any rate. The Secretary of State should perhaps have declared an interest. I know that he has not practised at the Bar for some years, but he is a distinguished lawyer. He must know that the Bill could well become a minefield of contention and pedantry. Looking at clauses 4 to 8, I envisage lawyers specialising in labour law rubbing their hands in the Temple. I see the solicitors in Chancery lane who instruct them smiling with glee at the contentions that those clauses present. For example, clause 4 aims to tackle secondary action.
What will happen if the Ford Motor Company decides to split each plant into a separate plc and then split each part of each plant into a separate plc? Under the Bill as it stands, secondary action by workers in one plc to assist workers in another plc--although the group interest is clearly inseparable--will be unlawful. That makes no sense, except for the pockets of the lawyers who will go into court and earn fees for trying to sort out the mess that the Government have created for themselves. Therefore, I invite the Minister to consider the way in which legal artifice may be used to make primary action into secondary action. There is a real risk of that. I now turn to clause 6. In my constituency there is a charming town called Machynlleth, which has a great tradition of railway workers. There used to be a large railway station, but, because of what is happening to British Rail services west of Shrewsbury, that railway station is about to become an art gallery, although I am sure that it will be an excellent art gallery. Perhaps I had better leave British Rail services out of the debate or I shall be ruled out of order. However, I am pleased to say that there are still railway workers in Machynlleth and most of them are still loyal members of the National Union of Railwaymen. Under clause 6, the unpaid, part-time branch
Column 70secretary of the Machynlleth branch of the NUR will be an official of the union, who will be able to make the NUR liable in court because of his actions.
I am a lawyer, too, and I recall the Solicitor-General, some years before he became Solicitor-General, appearing in a very well known case called Tesco v. Nattrass in the House of Lords, in which it was held that the only person who could bind a company was someone who could properly be regarded as the eyes and ears of that company. That remains the law for many purposes. Under clause 6, a union will be bound not by its eyes and ears but by people who are so far removed from its eyes and ears that they are barely part of its limbs.
That provision in clause 6 is part of a legal minefield that is unfair to trade unions, because, with the best will in the world, it will have one of two effects. Either it will introduce a new concept of vicarious liability- -if it does, I am surprised that as good a lawyer as the Secretary of State is prepared to countenance it--or it will turn trade unions into centralised, authoritarian and unworkable organisations in which the part- time branch secretary at Machynlleth will have no interest. It is extremely important that that provision is reconsidered, because it is nonsense.
Clause 7 provides for an amendment of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 and introduces new section 62A. It says : "An employee has no right to complain of unfair dismissal if at the time of dismissal he was taking part in an unofficial strike or other unofficial industrial action Provided that, a strike or other industrial action shall not be regarded as unofficial if none of those taking part in it are members of a trade union."
That, Mr. Deputy Speaker--perhaps as the changeover is taking place I should say Mr. and Madam Deputy Speaker
That raises serious problems. Why is an unofficial strike not an unofficial strike when no trade unionists are involved? Why does it suddenly become an unlawful unofficial strike when but one trade unionist is involved? There can only be one reason for that--that the Government have decided that trade unionists should be discriminated against merely because they have decided to join a trade union. That is fundamentally wrong and contradicts the right in clause 1, which I applaud, to choose whether to be a member of a trade union.
New section 62A removes the right of an employee to complain to an industrial tribunal that he has been unfairly dismissed for taking part in an unofficial strike. We know what happens in the real world ; sometimes unofficial strikes blow up for very good reasons. An employer may unjustifiably decide to lock out part of his work force or discriminate against women employees. The buzz goes round, "We will have an unofficial strike," and a young lad or lass of 17 walks out of the factory with the rest of the work force. Not only youngsters but all workers
Column 71are susceptible to group pressure. How can the Government justify penalising by possible sacking every worker, whatever their strength of character, age or sex, who takes part in unofficial action? To achieve just and even-handed trade union law, we must give all workers the right of access to a tribunal for it to decide whether their action was reasonable.
Our objection is that the middle and later parts of the Bill remove the possibility of reasonableness being the test of action taken by union officials or workers on the shop floor. The Bill sets rules intended to kick unions, rather than setting standards intended to support working people. We hope that it will be so improved in Committee that we shall be able to support it, but at present that is not possible.
Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock) : There have been five major employment and trade union Bills since 1979, four of which have been particularly relevant to industrial relations. Opposition Members made long speeches saying that each Bill would worsen the industrial relations environment and our economic performance, but we have experienced the exact opposite. We ignored those siren voices in the past, so my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State should ignore the siren voices once again warning of grave pitfalls. The purpose of the legislation introduced since 1979 was to make the trade union movement more accountable to, and therefore more reflective of, the views of its membership, and to put the freedom of the individual first rather than to allow the coercion of the closed shop-- certainly the post-entry closed shop--to continue. It made the right to go to work a decision of individual conscience. Under the 1988 Act, we rightly outlawed the disciplining of trade union members because they wanted to go to work when there had been a majority ballot in favour of strike action.
The Bills introduced since 1979 have tried to restore the appalling imbalance that we inherited between the rights of the individual and the trade union movement and between the power and might of organised labour against capital. That policy has been extremely successful. Far fewer days are now lost because of strikes than throughout the 1970s, particularly when the Labour party was last in power. Even with the tightening of the labour market, and even with unemployment falling to about the level of the late 1970s, the number of days lost through strikes is smaller than in the 1970s.
The argument often advanced by Opposition Members--that that results not from our legislation but from the fact that we had high unemployment in the early 1980s--is irrelevant. With more people in employment than before, and with unemployment back to the level of the mid to late 1970s, fewer days are lost because of strikes than before the legislation was introduced between 1979 and 1989. We have also witnessed substantial improvements in
productivity--both in the economy as a whole and in manufacturing. One result of the legislation passed over the past 10 years has been that employers have had much greater respect for trade unions because--even if they have been forced into it, in one sense--trade unions have
Column 72become more responsive to, and have more closely reflected, the needs, aspirations and views of their members. Employers treat trade unions with more respect now that they know that the trade unions' views have more validity. Conversely, trade unions have, on the whole, more respect for employers.
Now that less energy is being dissipated by the trade union leadership in acts of industrial vandalism and destruction, many trade unions and their leadership have put their energy into more constructive matters, and have sought to try to make genuine improvements in the working conditions of their members. In a wider context, the EEPTU, for example has negotiated a very good private health package for its members. We now have responsible trade unions widening their horizons and expanding the role that they play on behalf of their members.
That is what we have achieved so far. We now need to consider why the Bill is a logical extension of those earlier Acts. The hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) said that there were still 1.3 million people in pre-entry closed shops and a further 1.3 million people in post-entry closed shops. The hon. Gentleman was making a case for saying that we should not have waited for the Employment Act 1988 and this Bill to deal with the pre-entry closed shop : we should have dealt with it in our first Employment Act back in 1980.
Let me deal first with secondary action. It is logical to extend the removal of immunity in law to secondary action. In my view, it would be morally reprehensible to allow immunity to remain. Immunity should exist only for those directly involved in a dispute with their own employers, and within the definition of a trade dispute. The rhetoric of the hon. Member for Newham, North-East is all well and good, but he knows full well that the Bill will not prevent legitimate action by a group of workers who have a genuine dispute with their own employer and who have been balloted by their local union leaders concerning the kind of industrial action that they would like to take in the context of their terms and conditions of employment, and--where jobs are threatened, for example--provided that the wording on the ballot paper is specific and accurate in stating what the local shop stewards seek a mandate to do. If all those conditions are met and if there is a majority vote, that action can be taken and the right to strike remains.
Secondary action is an entirely different matter. It is completely wrong that a company in dispute with its own employees can have its goods and services blacked by employees of other companies who have nothing to do with the dispute, and that they and their customers should lose as a result. There is no moral case whatever for immunity to be retained in cases of secondary action. I therefore welcome clause 40, which would end such immunity.
Earlier legislation reduced the number of strike days lost, but still the public have to put up with a great deal of wildcat strike action, particularly in the public sector. Earlier in the debate we heard from the Opposition that the raison d'etre--the catalyst--for the Bill was the tube strike. I think that the tube strike was the last straw that broke the camel's back. It was the most recent horrendous example of action taken by unions in the public sector--as it often is--to disrupt the daily lives of millions of people without any democratic mandate from their membership to do so.
Column 73It is worth noting that 75 per cent. of strike action taken in Britain at the moment is unofficial. That means that this is not a small problem or a problem limited to one or two strikes-- caused by bad management or whatever--or to one or two parts of the public sector. Even given the huge reduction in strike action over the past 10 years, such action remains all too prevalent.
It is fair to say that many options were discussed by the Government in seeking to solve the problem. One was the removal of the right to strike in essential services. I have always had grave doubts about a de facto removal of the right to strike from anyone in Britain, irrespective of whether they work in an essential service or not. The Government were absolutely right to conclude that they would be foolhardy to take that approach. They have decided upon the right solution. First, they propose to make trade unions far more accountable in law. The unions will have to try to ensure--and prove that they have been doing all that they can to ensure--that they can control the wider elements in their midst, and that people cannot stir up feelings and lead employees out on strike without going through the proper channels.
Secondly, the Government propose to change the law so that a person involved in wildcat action or negative, disruptive action within his company can be dismissed and will lose the right to take the case on appeal to an industrial tribunal. I congratulate the Minister on sticking with those two solutions and not taking a route that could have some significant public spending ramifications because of the inevitable tit-for-tat that would have resulted. I congratulate the Government for introducing the solutions suggested in the Bill. Under all Governments, employers have been able to sack all or none of those on strike. That was the case when the Labour party was in power. I do not think that that fair balance should now apply to people taking or leading strike action when they have no legal, moral or democratic mandate for doing so.
The third provision on which I propose to comment applies to the pre-entry closed shop. As I said, much of the previous legislation has been about individual rights in the workplace and in society generally. The 1980, 1982 and 1988 Acts dealt with the post-entry closed shop and gave people the right to go to work without fear of discipline or of reprisals being taken against them simply because, as a matter of conscience, they happen to want to do one thing when the majority of their colleagues happen to want to do something else. But the pre-entry closed shop remained untouched, and it is therefore logical and desirable--as the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has also concluded--to place it on the same legal footing as the post-entry closed shop. That is all that the Bill would do. There is nothing controversial or contentious about that. It is a natural and logical step forward.
Although the Labour party still opposes pre-strike ballots, supports secondary action and mass picketing and opposes trade unions being held financially responsible for the devastation that they often try to cause, it at least now seems to accept that strong unions are based on voluntary membership and not on coercion. I hope that that conversion is genuine and does not simply stem from directives coming from Brussels. It seems at the moment that the Labour party embraces with both arms anything that comes out of Brussels. It is interesting to speculate whether, in the hypothetical event of there being a Labour Administration after the next general
Column 74election, they would warmly embrace a Brussels directive forcing them to allow private companies to run trains on a contract basis on the rail network. It would be interesting to see how the Labour party squirmed or reacted in response to directives from Europe which the Labour Government did not like for what they argued were perfectly valid philosophical and practical reasons.
At the moment, let us give the Opposition the benefit of the doubt. Let us assume that they have been suddenly converted and have jettisoned principles which they have held strongly for decades. If that is the case, when will we see the same conversion in respect of the students' closed shop and the National Union of Students? I welcome the Bill. It is the next logical step and I am sure that it will be taken ably by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State as he guides the Bill through the House. 7.20 pm
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) gave us the historical background to the Bill. I want to remind him, the House and the country of the historical background to the trade union movement.
At one time, we had the Combination Acts in this country, which denied workers the right to join or belong to a trade union. Many workers organised illegally in an attempt to get rid of the Combination Acts ; as a result, they were hanged, imprisoned or transported abroad. Eventually the Combination Acts were destroyed, after a long and bitter struggle.
The hon. Member for Thurrock referred to big unions and big labour in contrast to the employers. That was reminiscent of the language used by employers in the United States immediately after the second world war. The unions in the United States were very weak until the new deal initiated by Roosevelt. He gave workers rights through legislation. We had not had rights like that in this country because we did not believe in legislation to organise trade unions. In the United States, workers in unions like the steel workers unions and the automobile workers unions began to organise and the Congress of Industrial Organisations was born.
The CIO can be considered alongside the old craft unions in this country, of which I was a member. We organised because we were craftsmen. Lawyers, who are also craftsmen, ensure that no one other than a lawyer enters that organisation. When I was an apprentice, the craftsmen--as in the United States--ensured that only craftsmen entered a union.
In the United States the employers eventually had to accept the CIO because there was tremendous organisation among industrial workers. I am only too pleased to provide the hon. Member for Thurrock with a lecture about the trade unions. He must be aware that after the second world war the employers in the United States referred to the workers' organisations as though they were stronger than the employers.
At one stage, the Conservatives did a similar thing in this country when they produced a pamphlet called "A giant strength". That was the beginning of the Conservatives' campaign against the trade unions. It contained the nonsensical argument that the workers had immense power even greater than that of the employers. That pamphlet was rubbish. Even with the best
Column 75organisation in the world, the working class and the trade unions were never as strong as the employers' organisations. The balance was always against the workers and trade unions and in favour of the employers. The hon. Member for Thurrock may not like that or agree with me, and that is his right.
The employers have always been stronger than the trade unions. However, the trade unions have always been under pressure, particularly from Conservative Governments. I remember the Industrial Relations Act 1971 under what I must call the Heath Government. I was a member of the Opposition Front Bench at the time, and I fought that legislation every inch of the way. There were arguments then about the closed shop, and the arguments continue today. As long as employers want to use their strength and power against organised working people who want decent working conditions and to live in decent conditions with decent wages, there will always be a struggle for 100 per cent. trade unionism and for the closed shop. I am upset by the fact that Conservative Members believe that trade unionists want to oppress other workers. That has never been our intention. We have never wanted to place the iron heel on workers' necks because they would not join a trade union. In my time, I have negotiated many 100 per cent. trade union agreements, which people can call closed shops if they like--it does not matter. They were not always pre-entry closed shops, but sometimes they were.
In some cases, Jehovah's Witnesses or members of other religious groups did not want to join the union. Did we say, "Sack them"? Perhaps in some cases they were sacked, but those cases were very few. Trade unionists said, "Right--we are not in favour of sacking those workers, provided that they are not freeloaders going along and getting all the benefits of a trade union organisation. We will make an agreement and they can pay into a charity."
I am sickened by clause 1(b)(ii) which states that it will be unlawful
"To make payments or suffer deductions in the event of his not being a member of a trade union."
That really makes me angry, because that means that everything that I have done over the years as a trade unionist, while accepting that people do not have to belong to a union, will be illegal.
Mr. Eggar : I have been listening extremely carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and in particular to his description of the closed shop as it was. Why has the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) decided that he does not want to oppose the abolition of the closed shop? Why did the hon. Member for Sedgefield not draw attention to the particular subsection to which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has referred?
Mr. Heffer : I will come to the point about the social charter in my own terms, and not in the Minister's terms. I do not think that the difference between my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and myself is quite as great as the Minister believes.
Mr. Heffer : No. I shall make my case in my own terms and in my own way. There are differences--everybody knows about them--and I shall speak about them in a few moments. I shall not answer in terms of what the Conservative party thinks, because that is not what I think and it never has been.
Let me explain why we argue for a closed shop. I was an apprentice joiner before the second world war in the south of England. My trade union was not that strong, but, on going to work, my Dad said, "There are two things, lad, now that you've gone to work : take your tea caddy with you and join the union." That is what my old feller said, and he was absolutely right.
I joined the union as an apprentice. On some of the sites, the older trade union members would look round and realise that there was a majority of members of the society--that is what we called the union then--on those sites. They would elect a shop steward, and they would then talk to the other workers to try to get them into the union. On most occasions they succeeded. After that, the union would reach an agreement with the employer and it would tell the employer that, as from then, the site was a trade union one and that anyone working on it had to be a member of the union. Conservative Members may say that that is disgraceful, but what is disgraceful about workers working for the benefit of all workers? The union ensured that workers on the sites enjoyed proper trade union conditions and decent pay. We never had one worker set against another. We were working for the benefit of all that was why we organised other sections of workers and got a federation steward on the job. The National Federation of Building Trade Operatives meant that trade union organisation on the sites was 100 per cent.