Corbyn opposition fails to halt British strike bill

14th September 2015, Comments 0 comments

A bid to curb strike action cleared its first hurdle in Britain's parliament on Monday, despite fierce criticism from opposition Labour party and its new leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The veteran leftist and one-time party outsider vowed to fight the bill after he swept to victory over the weekend, backed by a dramatic surge of grassroots support and endorsement from Labour's traditional backbone, the trade unions.

On its second reading in parliament lawmakers voted 317 in favour, 284 against the bill proposed by the Conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron, meaning it will now advance to in-depth debate.

The bill drew furious dissent from Labour as Corbyn made his first appearance on the front benches.

Angela Eagle, newly appointed as shadow business secretary, called it "the most significant, sustained and partisan attack on six million trade union members and their workplace organisations that we have seen in this country in the last 30 years."

"There is absolutely no necessity whatsoever to employ the law in this draconian way," Eagle said.

Fellow Shadow cabinet member Diane Abbott, speaking ahead of the vote, described the bill as "a particularly vicious attack on the rights and liberties of trade unions".

The legislation would impose a minimum 50-percent turnout in strike ballots, unions would have to give more notice before strikes, and employees would be able to use agency workers to replace striking staff.

Picketers would have to give their names to police and face fines if they fail to wear an official armband.

Former union official Corbyn said Monday that Britain "already has the most restrictive trade union laws in western Europe".

But the law was defended as a natural progression by the Conservative party, which said that while unions had helped create a fairer society, strikes were now decided by hardcore activists without wider support.

"Just as the workplace has evolved... so have the trade unions and the laws that govern them," said business secretary Sajid Javid.

"Now it is time for Britain's unions to take that next step and this bill will help do just that."

- Solidarity from Greece -

Corbyn shocked experts and many lawmakers within his own party after his campaign swept him from a relatively unknown rebellious backbencher to win 60 percent of party support in a matter of months.

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, whose anti-austerity party Syriza has attracted comparisons with Corbyn, welcomed his election at a People's Assembly Against Austerity event held in a church building in central London.

"The news coming from Britain in the last few days are astonishing," Varoufakis told the mostly-young crowd of 2,000, who cheered when Corbyn's name was mentioned.

"I'm here to offer the Greek people's solidarity to the people of Britain in what you are embarking on."

As one of his first acts, Corbyn vowed to challenge the Conservatives' claim to be the party of "hardworking people".

"The Tories are hitting working people with a double whammy -- attacking the trade unions that defend jobs and win pay rises, and attacking the tax credits that provide a safety net for the millions of people stuck in low-paid jobs," he wrote in the Daily Mirror.

But Corbyn was given no honeymoon by his party and there was no shortage of criticism for his first steps as leader, picking the lawmakers who will form the Labour top team, the shadow cabinet.

His selection of left-wing supporter John McDonnell for the key role of shadow chancellor made a "nonsense" of his pledge to reach out to all factions, said former Labour interior minister Charles Clarke, identified with the party's centrist strand that has long been at odds with its far-left.

"He had choices of who he was going to appoint and the choice he made was to go down the most hard-line position," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

McDonnell has previously joked about "assassinating" former Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher, called for the honouring of IRA members and advocated nationalising the banking, energy and rail sectors.

Corbyn also defended the lack of women in the shadow cabinet's traditional top roles, saying it was "an 18th century" attitude to view the foreign and finance ministries as more important than the health and education departments.

In total, women will fill 16 of the 31 posts in Corbyn's senior team.


© 2015 AFP

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