The police shouldn’t be spying on unions – and thanks to concessions won in Parliament – they won’t be allowed to.
The Investigatory Powers Bill, currently working its way through Parliament, contains many provisions intended to tackle serious crime. Until yesterday parts of the Bill might also have put the civil liberties of anyone who belongs to a union at risk.
Chief amongst them were rule changes allowing the government to seize union phone records or emails. Considering the history of blacklisting in our movement, there was a real concern that this could be a backdoor route for a return to this despicable practice.
Given the welcome scrutiny of police failings and cover ups in recent years – Hillsborough, Orgreave and the scandal of undercover police officers infiltrating legitimate campaigning and political groups – it was clearly never going to be acceptable for the government to bypass the need for warrants and seize any kind of union communication.
Fortunately, the government has backed down after considerable pressure was placed on them by the Labour Party. In particular Andy Burnham, Keir Starmer and Tom Watson deserve praise for the way they have pursued the government over elements of the Bill. And Home Office minister John Hayes deserves credit for listening to their evidence on the proposals that he himself described as “neither proportional nor lawful”.
Unions are vital for the defence of working people. Attacks like this, and the Trade Union Act, seek to undermine that defence. Yet in recent months the government has been forced to concede its attacks on our right to organise have gone too far.
If ministers want to make good on such admissions, there is a great deal more legislation that restricts unions that they could tear up – starting with the Trade Union Act.