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Stormont: A step forward for Trade Union rights?

6 March 2022

PbP launch the Trade Union Freedom Bill at Stormont.

There was much jubilation among leftists when MLA Gerry Carroll presented the "Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill" on March 2nd. The bill was defeated narrowly by 43 to 38. Sinn Féin and the SDLP voted for, DUP, UUP and Alliance against and 2 Green MLAs abstained. Gerry Carroll remarked: "It wasn't passed *this* time. But hopefully we'll be back again with more bills for workers rights". But there is much less here than meets the eye.

Firstly, the bill is somewhat limited. Carroll said it would "remedy" laws which stem "back to Margaret Thatcher and her attacks on striking workers",

But anti-union legislation was introduced originally by Labour. The legislation, while useful, would have been well short of the sort of freedom to withdraw your labour that applied in the 60s.

Secondly, the unionists were very clear in their rejection of the bill. They were capitalist parties and this bill might increase costs for employers.  But are not Sinn Féin and the SDLP also capitalist parties? There is all the difference in the world between giving a nod to the workers in the run-up to an election and actually voting legislation through. The track record of both parties indicates that they were simply posturing.

Thirdly, even if passed, the legislation would not have become law. It was introduced by the PbP in December, too late to complete the legislative cycle before the elections.

Fourthly, a similar campaign was mounted by Gerry Carroll and Eamon McCann 4 years ago, just before the last election. Why did it take four years to bring the issue to the table again?

It's quite clear this is an election scam.  A flurry of pre-election statements credit Gerry with defence of unions, suggest that his amendment was the basis for a Sinn Féin rent pause, leading the environmental fightback by complaining about smells at the local landfill site, donating to food banks and organising "Connolly Socialist" education forums. At the same time PbP keep well away from controversy, not addressing Sinn Fein corruption on housing or responding to the local campaign to defend Julian Assange.

All politicians scam before elections, but there is a deeper issue here. The Carroll campaign was supported by smaller Union sections and even they provided only committee members.  The rank and file were not invited. The bigger unions stayed away.

That's because the basic assumption of the Bill, that the unions are hobbled by anti-union legislation, is completely false. The union leaders have demobilised their members and are inside Stormont doing deals. A real campaign would involve building a fighting campaign in opposition to the current leadership.

Belfast PbP and the layer of trade union lefts are constructing a fantasy football league based on the idea that that socialism can be achieved by building socialist representation in Stormont - that a body constructed to enshrine sectarianism and colonialism can be converted to become a mechanism for the achievement of socialism. In reality this makes them part of a third wave peace movement that supports the view of the trade union leaders that workers should be neutral on the need for an Irish democracy - a position far to the right of even the other sections of People before Profit.

The Trade Union bill is meant to demonstrate this possibility of reform within a sectarian setup. Gerry Carroll claims that it does this even as it fails. What is really demonstrated is the delusional nature of PbP Belfast and the small layer of trade union committee members around them.

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