BBC INTERVIEWER JOHN HUMPHRYS: If Unite goes on strike without hitting the 50 per cent threshold, would you support them?
SHADOW JUSTICE SECRETARY RICHARD BURGON: Well, I think the real issue here is the only lawbreakers there have been where it comes to worker-employer relations are actually the government, because on July 26 the Supreme Court decided the Ministry of Justice of all things had been operating unlawfully with their employment tribunal fees.
HUMPHRYS: I’m asking you a completely different question. I’m asking you whether you would support Unite breaking the law.
BURGON: Nobody is talking about returning to industrial relations of the 70s. What some people are talking about, if you’ll let me finish if that’s okay, is returning to the employment practices of the 1970s. We’ve got to understand that union members who are firefighters, who are dinner ladies, who are ambulance drivers, who are prison officers, have had pay cuts in real terms of up to 14 per cent over the last few years.
HUMPHRYS: Let’s accept that is the case. What I’m asking you is a very specific question and it really is terribly important isn’t it, because you are a senior figure in the opposition, Shadow Justice Secretary, Shadow Lord Chancellor. I’m asking you whether if Unite were to go on strike, breaking the law, knowingly breaking the law as Len McCluskey has just posited, would you support them?
BURGON: These are complete hypotheticals.
HUMPHRYS: No they’re not because Len McCluskey has raised it. If they were hypothetical Len McCluskey would have said so himself. He answered a direct question directly and said yes, he would consider going on strike, even if it meant breaking the law. I’m asking you for the third time whether you would accept that yourself.
BURGON: Well in relation to the question of turnout in strike ballots, what we’ve always been supportive of is encouraging as many people to vote as possible in any strike ballot including e-balloting… What a Labour government would do would be to repeal the Trade Union Act which is seeking to stop trade unions from taking action, to stop ordinary people, hundreds of thousands of whom are listening to your show this morning, from suffering a 14% pay cut in real terms.
HUMPHRYS: But I’m inviting you to either support or condemn the threat that has been made by Len McCluskey. You seem unwilling to do that either way.
BURGON: There isn’t any illegal strike action taking place.
HUMPHRYS: It is being threatened as you very well know, it is being threatened by Len McCluskey, and I’m asking you again whether you would support that threat or not.
BURGON: Well I think the real issue is rather than talking about one line from a speech or interview from a general secretary of a trade union, we should be talking about the reality faced by hundreds of thousands of your listeners. Nurses, care assistants, firefighters, prison officers, teaching assistants. All too often they get written out of this discussion. That is who this is about. What kind of government do we have that’s made it so these hard-working decent people – trade unionists aren’t some kind of other or some kind of enemy within – these hard-working people are faced with a situation where they’re so desperate they’re considering co-ordinating strike action.