OVER 10,000 trade unionists last Monday took to the streets of London to mark International Workers Day and to give their backing for a new Campaign for Workplace Justice and a Bill for workers’ rights.
But the contingent from the RMT transport union alone was well over 1,000. The Transport and General Workers’ Union and Amicus also had huge contingents.
Other unions present included public sector union Unison, the Communication Workers’ Union, the GMB general union, building workers’ union Ucatt, train drivers’ union Aslef, the National Union of Journalists, broadcasting union Bectu, shopworkers’ union Usdaw, PCS civil service union, the National Union of Teachers and many more. There was hardly a union not represented.
There were banners, placards, flags and balloons. And there were jazz bands, brass bands, Punjabi drummers, and a lone bagpiper.
Dozens of trades councils were present, along with pensioners’ groups, an assortment of left wing parties and many international contingents. These included the colourful Turkish and Kurdish community groups and even a group from Bolivia.
The Gate Gourmet workers were there in force, along with the workers from Peugeot’s Ryton works, threatened with closure and the loss of 2,300 jobs.
Veteran trade union leader and International Brigader Jack Jones stood near the entrance to Trafalgar Square to welcome the marchers as they entered.
In the Square his successor, the TGWU general secretary Tony Woodley, spoke of the new initiative against the Thatcherite anti-union laws and for justice in the workplace. He said: “Solidarity must be put back at the centre of trade union and Labour Party policies.”
He called on the Government to heed the support of many MPs and millions of working people for the Trade Union Freedom Bill, which would allow trade unionists to take solidarity action in certain circumstances, and is supported by Labour Party conference policy.
The Bill would also remove restrictive procedures for ballots and notice of industrial action, and help develop justice at work for those whose rights were stripped away by successive Tory anti-union laws.
“Labour voted against each of those laws when in Opposition,” said Tony Woodley. “Surely it is not too much to expect the Government to recognise the need to restore fairness in the workplace through the measures contained in the Trade Union Freedom Bill.”
While no law could deliver fairness at work without the vigilance of trade unions to enforce it, the time had come to restore some equilibrium in industrial relations in Britain. needed now
“Strong trade unions are needed now more than ever to secure proper rights for all workers in safe workplaces. There are those who say that trade unions are old-fashioned and their concerns have been overtaken by the freedoms of the marketplace in labour and services,” he added.
“Don’t bother trying to explain that to the hundreds of workers killed each year because of unsafe working environments, or to the 150,000 seriously injured, often as a direct result of the criminal indifference of those who employ them. “The freedom of the market place is little consolation to the families of 23 Chinese migrant workers sacrificed on Morecambe Sands last year to the wickedness of exploitation which has gone on for so long in the farming and food industry.
“And freedom of employers to sack workers by text, by megaphone and by bullying also underlines the vital job which trade unions have to play in fighting for basic rights in employment.
“A series of vicious anti-union laws introduced by the Tories violated the concept of fairness at work, and we have waited more than long enough to restore equilibrium in industrial relations.
“Our demands are many, and I make no apology for that. But our basic requirement on behalf of all workers – and particularly the underpaid and exploited – is a decent living and a proper balance between working hours and family life.” Amicus general secretary Derek Simpson warned the Labour leadership that they face a “disastrous defeat” at the next general election unless the Government urgently addressed concerns over NHS cuts, job insecurities and pensions.
He called for a change in the Labour leadership to stop the rapid decline in support for the party. Simpson told the rally: “The sooner this Government learns some humility, starts listening to ordinary people, does something about employment laws, does something about pensions, does something to protect industry, then this demonstration would have served its purpose.”
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber told the rally strong laws were needed to end poverty pay, close the gender wage gap and tackle discrimination.
“No longer should British workers like the Peugeot workers in Coventry find that they are the cheapest and easiest in Europe to get rid of when the going gets tough,” he said.