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Monday, 29 July 2013 00:00

One law for the rich

One law for the rich, another for the poor. That's the rule the Con-Dems govern by.

The attack on employment tribunals goes hand in hand with the coalition's savage cuts to legal aid.

Both are aimed at making sure only the rich can afford justice. Both are a deliberate attempt to demolish the very foundations of a fair and impartial legal system.

The principle that defendants are innocent until proven guilty is absolutely vital to justice. It was hard-fought-for and hard-won over centuries. But it is irrelevant if the accused can't afford a lawyer to argue their case.

Workplace rights were just as hard-fought-for and just as hard-won. And they are just as vital.

Without equal access to the law we are back in the Middle Ages when justice was something done to the commoners by the lords.

Without the freedom to enforce our workplace rights we are back in the Victorian days of limbs mangled by machinery, of workers hired and fired on a whim, of arbitrary pay cuts, of "troublemakers" being blacklisted, of rampant racial and sexual discrimination.

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We are already seeing what happens to workplace death rates when health and safety inspections are cut back.

We are already seeing how blacklisting re-emerges when trade union rights are curtailed.

We are already seeing how pay and conditions suffer when workers are forced to fight with one hand tied behind their backs.

The new tribunal fees strip away even the meagre protection that remains for workers after decades of Tory attacks and Labour's shameful failure to redress the situation.

They mean that the poorest-paid have no rights at all - and that the worst bosses can abuse their staff and flout the law with near-total impunity.

This is exactly what the coalition intended. Not an unfortunate side-effect, not an unforeseen consequence.

Their plan is to reverse decades of progress and once again put bosses above the law, and that is what they are carefully and deliberately doing.

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As ever, a worker's strongest shield is their union membership card.

Unite and Unison deserve praise for their bold decision to pay members' tribunal fees.

But with the fees set to drain millions from workers' pockets every year, that can only be a short-term measure to protect workers from the worst of the pain.

The only answer is to completely scrap this skewed system and restore our right to access justice.

But Labour's silence on this issue speaks volumes. Where is Ed Miliband when working people are having their rights stolen from them?

Where is the denunciation of this assault on the basic principles of justice? Where is the pledge to repeal this evil, vicious attack on the poorest and most vulnerable?

Unite leader Len McCluskey warned Labour just last week that it has to change course if it wants to keep the support of Britain's workers.

This is a stern test of whether Labour is willing to make that change. And so far it is failing.

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