It goes without saying that one of the best days of the year, not only for the residents of Durham, but people up and down the country is the annual Durham Miners Gala. This year was the 131st meeting, and it was an absolute pleasure to attend.
As well as being a great day for all the family, the Miners Gala is a symbolic event with a key message, reminding us of the importance of trade unionism and our mining heritage.
All in all, the gala was well attended, and I was delighted to see so many key figures from the Labour movement there, including the four candidates standing to be the next leader of the Labour Party. It was a great chance for members of the public to speak to the candidates and get to know them, which I believe is so important when choosing a new leader.
However, it is ironic to me that as we celebrate the work of trade unions in securing better rights for workers, the government are pushing ahead with a bill that will dismantle the rights of workers and damage the support network that they currently have in the form of the trade unions.
The Trade Union Bill, which was presented to the Commons on Wednesday, will impose a minimum of 50% turnout and public sector strikes would need the backing of at least 40% of those eligible to vote. This is conveniently coupled with the government’s refusal to allow electronic ballots.
The legislation would also require workers to give 14 days notice of strike action, and allow employers to bring in agency staff in the event of a strike. The Government claim that this bill is aimed at protecting working families from strike action, despite the fact that strikes are at historically low levels. More working days were lost to labour disputes in 1926 than in the 37 years combined between 1974 – 2011, and the number of days lost to strikes has also decreased dramatically since the seventies.
Of course, strikes should always be a last resort, and I certainly don’t enjoy mass scale disruption, however trade unions are a vital part of society in protecting the rights of workers. Let’s not forget, without their existence we would all be working a sixty hour week on very little pay.
This bill is an ideological attack, an attempt from this government to silence their critics. The legislation could also cut the amount of money unions have to mount campaigns – or donate to parties such as Labour – with members actively having to “opt in” to pay the so-called political levy, which is currently automatic unless members opt-out.
This attempt to bankrupt the Labour Party is extremely one sided, as there are no parallel proposals to insert more democratic requirements on company donations to parties. I can assure all those who attended the Miners Gala, and all my constituents, that I will continue to stand up for the rights of workers and to oppose this bill.