The Labour left organisation Momentum recently emailed its membership to canvas ideas for policies that Momentum-backed candidates in the elections for Labour’s National Executive Committee, standing as part of the “Grassroots Voice” slate, should advocate.
We publish a response, below, from Labour Party member and Momentum supporter Riccardo la Torre, National Officer of the Fire Brigades Union and supporter of Free Our Unions, arguing that NEC candidates should speak up for the right to strike.
In response to your call for discussion around what policies Labour should advocate and fight for, I am writing as a Labour and Momentum member, trade unionist and an organiser for the Free Our Unions campaign, to urge making the right to strike central to our campaigning.
This must include demanding repeal of all anti-strike/anti-trade union laws – not just the 2016 Trade Union Act, but all of them, including those introduced under Thatcher from 1980. We also need the introduction of positive legal rights for workers and unions, including strong rights to strike and picket. But talking about these rights without committing to fight for repeal of the anti-union laws is contradictory and empty. Our approach must be to repeal and replace.
Achieving this vital demand for our movement would only be strengthened by our candidates and campaign publicly committing to support workers who take action in defiance of the anti-union laws, as many have during the pandemic and lockdown.
Creating the legal and political space for workers to take action free of the restrictions the anti-union laws currently impose is essential.
It is essential to help workers defend and extend their rights; and also to effectively fight for and win many other left and labour movement demands. Covid-19, the Black Lives Matter struggle and the climate crisis have all highlighted this in particular ways.
There is a question of Labour Party democracy here. In recent years Labour conference has voted repeatedly for a strong stand on this – in 2015, 2017, 2018 and last year. (For a summary, see here.)
The 2019 conference was particularly clear, calling in two separate motions for “repeal of all anti-union laws”, specifically demanding the right to strike for political demands, and voting to reference back a section of the National Policy Forum report specifically on the grounds that it ignored conference policy on this.
TUC Congress 2019 also passed very clear policy from the Fire Brigades Union (see p18, here).
Even under the Corbyn leadership, there was a certain reticence about making these demands. The 2019 manifesto was a step forward, but still ambiguous. Under Starmer, we seem to be in full reverse. This despite repeated polling showing Labour members strongly support the policy passed by conference.
We have a great opportunity to recreate momentum for these crucial demands. Please feel free to get in touch to discuss further.
For free trade unions and the right to strike,
Riccardo la Torre,
Free Our Unions