Prentis urges ‘popular uprising’ in defence of the right to strike

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis last night called on the labour movement to build a “popular uprising” against the Trade Union Bill when he spoke at a public meeting organised by the Institute for Employment Rights.

Introducing himself as “speaking on behalf of teaching assistants, cleaners, environmental health officers, nurses, care workers, hospital clerks and ambulance workers”, Mr Prentis explained that those were “just a few of the workers whose commitment to helping people and caring for their fellow citizens must scare this government.

“Why else would they treat their trade unions as dangerous bodies more akin to a threat to national security?”

The meeting was the first large-scale labour movement response to the Bill, which the government is intending to rush through by early autumn, after a brief consultation over the summer holiday.

It would create enormous blocks on unions being able to organise industrial action – with plans even being mooted by the government to order unions to set out their social media tactics for industrial action beforehand.

The government has claimed to be one for ‘working people,’ but as Mr Prentis put it, creating barriers to workers being able to defend themselves is hardly being friendly to working people.

He emphasised that these “dangerous” workers included

English NHS staff who had taken “their first one-day strike on pay in 30 years last year after five years of pay restraint” – but only after they had “arranged life and limb cover so no patient was at risk and all urgent 999 calls were answered”.

The government plans also include changing the law so that employers can use agency staff to strike break.

It would, said Mr Prentis, “raise the temperature in disputes, risk good will for already stretched staff and, most of all, provide a riskier and less safe environment for patients, school kids and the elderly.

“Employers and agencies don’t want it and every other country has a ban on agency strike breakers,” he noted.

Mocking plans to subject picketing to myriad new rules, he observed that, “if you have seen our picket lines, they are fun and friendly – with plenty of cake”.

The Bill “breaks all sense of natural justice by tying their [members’] trade union in red tape to make it virtually impossible to go on strike ever again.

“The Bill will stick in their throat as unjust.

“We must make the popular uprising against it, in defence of the right to strike,” urged Mr Prentis.