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Don't let the Tories slay our political freedoms; The UK government's plans to tighten rules on strike action and other union activity have angered the Labour movement. Shadow Secretary of State for Wales Owen Smith outlines why he thinks the legislation would be damaging for democracy.

THE recent decision by the UK Tory government to try to pass new laws restricting trade union rights is nothing short of an attack on our democratic freedoms. To put it bluntly, the Tories propose to weaken freedoms that are not theirs to give away.

They are seeking to clamp down on the freedom of people to organise themselves in the workplace and have an effective political voice.

Here in Wales our ancestors built a proud tradition by fighting to win these rights, and it falls to each new generation to defend them.

A core part of the Tories' plan is to introduce a new randomly high threshold for strike action, in a bid to effectively prevent working people from withdrawing their labour.

This is not just an attack on people's basic freedoms, it also reeks of hypocrisy from a government that came to power with 36% support of the 65% of people who voted in the election.

So for them to turn around and suggest trade unions are required to pass a 50% ballot threshold - a number they've simply plucked from the air - is a shameless example of double standards.

The truth is nobody wants to go on strike and lose a day's pay, it should only ever be a last resort. However, the right to withdraw your labour - over issues like exploitation or dangerous working conditions - is a vital democratic freedom and the Tories' attempt to undermine that is deeply disturbing.

Their plan might have more credibility if they allowed unions to increase turnout by balloting members online.

People already do their banking online and the Tories are suggesting plans for MPs to vote using tablet computers, so it stands to reason that union members should be able to cast their votes in the same way.

Why should it be one rule for MPs and another for union members? Another key part of the Tories' plan is to try to gag union members by dictating the way trade unions are allowed to use members' funds.

This is in an effort to make it increasingly difficult for trade unions to set aside money for political activism, like campaigning against the exploitation of workers by gang-masters and extremist movements like the English Defence League.

In order to run these kinds of campaigns trade unions set aside money in political funds.

The use of the money from these funds is already subject, by law, to a vote by members, asking if they want to see it continue, while all trade unionists have the option to opt out of the funds.

So rigorous systems are in place to ensure membership fees are properly used - and don't forget that unions are voluntary democratic bodies, with elected leaders.

Let's also be crystal clear, the Tories know that a number of unions choose to use some of their political funds to donate to the Labour Party.

The funding we receive from trade unionists comes from the donations of millions of workers across the UK, like cleaners, engineers, care workers and call-centre staff. It's the cleanest money in politics, openly and transparently donated. We are a labour movement and proud of it, this means that the hopes and struggles of ordinary people play a central role in shaping the aims of our party.

These UK government proposals are a blatant attempt to try to silence that political voice for working people.

While the Tory Party continues to be bankrolled by hedge funds.

British workers already have among the fewest rights in Europe. As a result, we are in breach of parts of the European Social Charter, which was set up to guarantee social and economic human rights.

These plans from the Tories will drive us even further down that table.

In Wales we rightly pride ourselves on being a nation that sticks together, values freedom and stands up for one another.

These are a crude attack on those values, as well as the rights and freedoms of the individual.

If we don't come together to oppose them we risk leaving our children a less free country than the one we inherited, which is a pretty miserable legacy.

Owen Smith is MP for Pon-typridd and Shadow Secretary of State for Wales


In Wales our ancestors built a proud tradition by fighting to win these rights, and it falls to each new generation to defend them, says Shadow Secretary <Bof State for Wales Owen Smith Lauren Hurley
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 17, 2015
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