Labour: we'll restore right to strike in support of overseas workers

Mattha Busby
John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, speaking at a Reuters event in London. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

Labour would abolish Thatcher-era laws preventing workers in the UK from taking industrial action in solidarity with their counterparts in other countries, the shadow chancellor has announced.

At an event in Airdrie, John McDonnell pledged that a Labour government would restore trade union rights by repealing legislation that undermines the ability of workers to take “collective action and acts of solidarity”.

This would mean “workers can revive the spirit of the Rolls-Royce workers in East Kilbride” who “struck a blow against the brutal Pinochet dictatorship” in Chile in the 1970s, he said.

The Hunter Hawker planes used by the Chilean airforce were powered by engines built in South Lanarkshire but workers there refused to repair them.

“When we go back into government we will restore trade union rights, and that will enable workers to take similar sympathy action on the basis of supporting fellow workers internationally,” said McDonnell.

The action, which was recently commemorated in the film Nae Pasaran!, was a “fantastic example of the operation of trade union rights”, McDonnell said.

“It was an effective blow against the Pinochet regime and its brutality against its own people,” he said, praising the East Kilbride workers for carrying out a “courageous and humane act against the horrors of the Pinochet years”.

“The action taken by the Rolls-Royce workers at East Kilbride was a momentous act of solidarity by Scottish workers in the aftermath of Chilean junta’s overthrow of a democratically elected government and the torturing and killing of civilians and those who opposed it,” he said.

“Such collective action and acts of solidarity have been attacked and undermined by restrictive anti-union laws started in the 1980s under Thatcher’s Tory government.”

In his speech McDonnell went on to commit Labour to enhancing democracy at work, restating the party’s plan to introduce sectoral collective bargaining to raise wages and conditions and saying a new ministry of labour would “give workers a voice in parliament”.

“Our programme of workplace reform will restore the balance between employer and worker, and it will do so by installing basic trade union rights in law again,” he said.

“A Labour government will transform the world of work, providing security, decent pay and equal rights for people from day one, including sick pay, holiday pay and protection against unfair dismissal.”

McDonnell’s speech came as the party lays out a number of policies committing it to what would be the biggest overhaul of workplace rights in 80 years. Among a number of radical proposals, private companies employing more than 250 people under a Labour government would have to give workers financial stakes through “ownership funds” that could see employees’ pay topped up by dividends from their company’s profits.