Why is there a need for a legal workers union?

Legal Workers’ Trade Union 

Why is there a need for a legal workers union?

 Unity

There are thousands of solicitors, barristers, legal executives, paralegals and legal administrative staff in the UK. We need one voice. Organisations like the CLSA and the LCCSA have done amazing work in fighting the cuts and organising the workforce, but fundamentally, we need one organisation that can speak for us all. We need the Legal Workers Trade Union.

In the last week we have seen how our divided profession has allowed the government to press on with its agenda of crippling cuts to legal aid. Without a central body to stand for our common interests as legal aid practitioners, this slash and burn government will continue to divide and rule.

 Experience

It took our profession hundreds of years to go on strike and we’ve learned a number of valuable lessons (not least which handbag to wear…), but it’s difficult to know how to minimise the collateral damage to our clients. The Legal Workers Trade Union, as a part of Unite the Union, will be able to draw on decades of experience that will help us maximise the impact of any action we take and make sure that impact is felt by those responsible.

 Working conditions

It has been only three years since LASPO, but more than thirty since Legal Aid rates have increased. Very few industries have put up with such a savage attack on pay and working conditions. With the next cut due in a matter of days, working conditions across the legal aid industry will continue to fall. We need someone in our corner.

The Legal Workers Trade Union is a movement for fair and sustainable working conditions for all employees on an equal basis across the legal sector. Too many vastly talented individuals are leaving legal aid work, and too many are fearful to enter. Still more are putting up with a gradual erosion of their working conditions, thinking there is no alternative. The LWTU will help provide independent, experienced assistance in any employer/employee negotiations and help protect your rights.

 Who can join?

LWTU is not just for the legally qualified; our membership includes students, trainees, and pupil barristers, as well as interns and volunteers, personal assistants, legal administrative staff, paralegals, solicitors, barristers and judges.

 Why join?

We are stronger together. Quite apart from the huge importance of a strong, central voice for the industry, workers stand to benefit in a variety of ways from union membership.

Workers in unions tend to earn more, receive more training and have better job security. Membership of a union also gives you access to the professional assistance that can help you negotiate better employment terms, like longer paternity/maternity leave or holiday entitlement.

Perhaps most importantly, as a member of the LWTU you will be part of the fight for fairness and equality across the industry. Even if you are lucky enough to work in a positive and progressive workplace, your membership will help empower the paralegal on less than minimum wage, the legal executive working an eighty-hour week, or the barrister earning £50 (and often much less) to spend their Saturday morning at the Magistrates’ Court.

 How to Join

You can join Unite online at:

 https://www.unitetheunion.org/join-unite/

If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to tweet us @Legal_TU, email us on legaltradeunion@gmail.com or take a look at our website https://legaltradeunion.wordpress.com/

We look forward to hearing from you!

Legal Workers Unite!

The government has made clear its agenda to destroy the legal aid system. This latest round of cuts will deny access to justice to an unprecedentedly large proportion of people. As lawyers committed to justice and equality, we in turn must declare our own agenda: to resolutely build an alternative to austerity, within and beyond the legal sector. Now as never before, we must forge a unified, sector-wide trade union capable of standing up for us and our clients.

Towards a better understanding of the problem of disunity

The chief problem faced by workers in the legal sector is our disunity in the face of threats to our jobs and working conditions. This is partly based on a general failure by those employed in the legal sector to conceive of ourselves as workers capable of taking collective action to enforce our working conditions. The Government has exploited and encouraged this disunity in order to divide and conquer our profession.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) recently confirmed a second 8.75% cut to criminal solicitors’ fees. Crime duty contracts are also set to fall from 1,600 to 527. These cuts appear all the more gratuitous when one considers that the LAA budget has already been reduced to within touching distance of Chris Grayling’s original 2017 target, two years ahead of schedule.

Sensing the growing militancy of the criminal bar, however, the MoJ declared that criminal advocacy fees would remain un-cut ‘for the time being’. Those working at the bar have been granted a momentary respite while the MoJ focuses its fire on solicitors.

The leadership of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) had reacted quickly to the General Election with a ballot for industrial action. 96% of those balloted came out in favour of taking action to oppose the Government’s plans. Since that promising start, the CBA leadership has inexplicably decided to back down. In a short-sighted and supine statement that has been widely condemned by members across its own organisation, the CBA has hung solicitors out to dry.

Towards a strategy of sector-wide industrial action

Faced with this level of infighting and self-interest, any attempt to foster workplace unity across the profession will be an uphill struggle. The process of unifying legal workers of all stripes will require us to navigate the minefield of anti-worker and anti-trade union legislation left over from the Thatcher and Major Conservative Governments. We will require creativity in our approach to industrial action, and diligence if we are to surmount the stringent, legalistic requirements of balloting.

Some commentators have suggested that barristers are better placed to take industrial action, as solicitors who go on strike will only hurt their own clients, not the courts. But even if this questionable premise proves true, it surely provides further evidence that action by barristers is essential for the defence of the profession as a whole.

Let us make no mistake: the junior bar will suffer from the CBA leadership’s rejection of its members’ willingness to take action. So too will criminal solicitors. And so too, of course, will the growing hordes of unrepresented criminal clients. Something needs to be done to combat the cynicism and myopia embodied in the CBA statement.

The policy architects of the bipartisan consensus in favour of austerity are terrified that workers might organise themselves if left to their own devices. That is why successive governments, both Tory and Labour, have developed stringent mechanisms for regulating the supply of labour.

It is time for us to hold the Government to their own mantra of deregulation, and demand negotiations for a collective bargain to govern the whole profession. As workers working together in the legal sector, we can best pursue this demand by forming a sector-wide trade union.

Towards a Legal Workers’ Trade Union

A group of legal workers calling itself the Legal Workers’ Trade Union (LWTU) has recently started to organise a network of workers committed to a sector-wide trade union. We have been using this simple LWTU banner to encourage legal sector workers to sign up to Unite the Union. We chose Unite as the central plank of our strategy because of the Union’s existing presence within the sector, and because of the potential to link up with workers in other sectors taking industrial action against austerity.

The key at this stage is to get solicitors and barristers, paralegals and admin staff to build collective strategies from within a unified branch structure. The legal sector has too many representative bodies: we need a single roof under which to organise. Unite is that roof.

In these dire days, those still fighting for a fairer legal system must recognise that an attack on one is an attack on all. The CBA leadership would have done well to act out that simple premise and stand in defence of criminal solicitors. Faced with the unrepresentative leadership of bodies like the CBA, barristers and all legal sector workers would all do well to join Unite and start going to branch meetings. It is in those meetings that we will forge our collective defence of the justice system.