Resisting the Tories Sustained Assault on Democracy and Our Fundamental Rights

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2023 National Delegate Conference
16 February 2023

Conference notes that this UK government has launched a sustained volley of attacks on our basic freedoms at break-neck speed and in such volume that even very basic levels of appropriate scrutiny and challenge is almost impossible. They have defied legal norms of parliamentary process and sunk to new levels to force through their proposals.

Taken separately any one of these attacks is alarming enough together they are a coordinated attack on all of us.

Conference notes that the attacks include, but are not limited to:

1)Police Crime Sentencing, and Courts Act 2022, a mammoth populist, multifaceted attack on our rights that mainly consists of serious, basic threats to a host of our civil liberties such as:

a)Widening the scope of laws that already disproportionately impact Black and minority communities, such as Stop and Search and laws making life for Gypsy and Roma traveller communities almost impossible, have been broadened;

b)Introducing new duties on frontline workers (including youth workers) that will break down hard-won relationships of trust by forcing them to share private data, no matter what other legal assurances of confidentiality are given;

c)Placing avoiding ‘causing serious unease’ (an undefined and unmeasurable concept) as more important than our historic right to peacefully protest;

d)Does not exempt legitimate industrial action such as picketing from ‘disruption’ definitions.

2)Public Order Bill – A staggering escalation of the government’s clampdown on protest above, this set of proposals is a vindictive response to recent protests that the Tories personally dislike – Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion etc. They further attack our democratic right to protest whereby police will not need to wait for disruption before shutting down a protest on the grounds that it ‘might’ cause disruption which might have ‘more than a minimal impact’ on people or business, potentially criminalising peaceful protest;

3)Elections Act 2022 including new Voter ID requirements – an attempt to cynically and critically undermine our democracy by directly attacking free and fair elections. This Bill is not just about introducing voter ID, it’s about rigging future elections in favour of those already in power;

This legislation gives ministers control over the, currently independent, Electoral Commission enabling them to direct scrutiny toward their political rivals or even to turn a blind eye to their party’s own wrongdoing;

It imposes limits on groups, trade unions, charities and even individuals doing anything considered to be ‘intended to achieve a common purpose’. Legal and political experts have cited this as a direct attack on the involvement of unions and union members in elections and a way for the government to attack the funding streams for opposition parties;

This comes alongside proposals for mandatory voter ID, supposedly to prevent election fraud despite there being little evidence that this is a problem. This is blatant voter suppression which, as early as this year, stands to disenfranchise young people, people on lower incomes and has has been very well documented Black communities hardest.

4)Human Rights Act Reform Bill – The UK Human Rights Act has been a significant curb to this governments most excessive attempts to dismantle our democratic, and fundamental, rights and it is no surprise that they now seek to replace and dilute the act itself;

The proposal is to replace the UK Human Rights Act with a weaker Bill of Rights and seems entirely based on the false premise that basic human rights for all somehow take rights away from others;

The UK’s Human Rights Act safety net is a crucial source of legal protection for people across the country. It provides a means for those who have been mistreated or failed by the system to challenge their treatment and hold authorities to account. It has been vital in securing rights for many of our members including for the LGBT+ community and for disabled people with physical or mental impairments. It provides essential protection for all of us when we’re at our most vulnerable;

The government’s own independent review bodies have said there is no need to change the current Human Rights legislation but is still being cynically pushed through parliament.

5)Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill – a direct threat to industrial action that must be stopped;

6)Retained EU Law Bill – This bill is a direct attack on workers’ rights. It creates a countdown for the expiry of vital protections in the workplace. By 2023, removing over 3800 pieces of EU derived legislation.

Conference is clear that we can not let the Tories weaken our basic democratic rights and freedoms now just to gain them populist votes or to avoid difficult conversations and debates about the cost of living crisis and their own failings.

Despite the overwhelming body of attack from this government, UNISON is well placed to challenge and resist this complete onslaught on all our rights as trade unions have had to many times before.

Conference calls on the National Executive Council to:

i)Campaign to resist any dilution of the current UK Human Rights Act which underpins all other freedoms, alongside developing a broader campaign to resist anything that weakens our fundamental rights such as the current threats to industrial action, protest and free and fair election;

ii)Undertake joint campaigning activity with the TUC, STUC, WTUC, ICTU, engaging with the Labour Party via Labour Link, Liberty, the British Institution for Human Rights, and any relevant civil society organisations in furtherance of defending and developing our current rights and freedoms from these attacks;

iii)Support branches to campaign on these issues;

iv)Challenge any attempt by the government to dilute current workers’ rights.