REMEMBER when British Petroleum rebranded itself as the oil company of choice for planet conscious tree huggers? Or how about that time when Mars rebranded its chocolate as the saturated fat of choice for slinky joggers and beefy weightlifters? And remember when Tony Blair and Bill Clinton rebranded imperialist war as the geopolitics of choice for human rights activists?

This week Theresa May announced that a Tory government would be on the side of the working class. And if you believe that oil companies want to save the little animals, that chocolate companies want to keep you thin, and that Western nations want democracy in the Middle East, then maybe you’ll believe this too.

It’s tempting to ignore the facts and just admire the incredible boldness. The Tories must be pretty damn gallus to make a claim like that, having decimated British industry, militarised the cops against the unions and chucked three million onto the dole during the 1980s when a young Theresa May was joining the party. You’ve got to admire the studied horror of it all. No, really, you do.

But deep down I’m still a pedant and those much-maligned facts keep intruding. This is the same May, isn’t it, who slashed tax credits that provided a lifeline to Britain’s poorest workers? Who has kept Cameron and Osborne’s one per cent public-sector pay cap? And it’s under the Tories, isn’t it, that Britain has come second bottom of Europe’s post-2008 wage growth league table? Although, hey, in fairness, it could be worse: we’re still doing better than Greece.

May’s main promise is to safeguard EU laws that protect workers. However, the Tories have already filibustered a Labour bill that would have enshrined these rights with the strongest protections that Britain’s legal system offers. They’re giving back – in diluted form – something they’ve already stolen and calling it a gift.

Under May, legal access to workplace justice has already been drastically curbed by the introduction of fees for employment tribunals. These measures have caused a staggering 67 percent fall in workers taking their employer to court. Depending on your opinion, that’s either a sign that our workplaces are 67 percent happier or a drastic curtailment of basic access to justice.

Under decades of Tory rule, Britain developed the most draconian anti-working class laws in Europe (barring Belarus). Sadly, New Labour never reversed any of this.

However, New Labour did do one thing: they opted in to the EU social chapter which legally guaranteed some very basic things like paid holidays, equal pay for women and minimum rights for part-time workers. Britain had previously opted out of this part of European law because – in Thatcher’s words – it was a “socialist charter”.

Indeed, when New Labour proposed opting back in, they were vociferously opposed by a doughty working-class frontbencher named Theresa May.

May bemoaned the social chapter as a “burden on business”. She criticised its “family-friendly practices” like parental leave as unaffordable. She said that its basic equal pay guarantees would throw women onto the dole queue.

Even as late as 2007, May was presenting the social chapter as Satan incarnate, and arguing that Labour’s commitment to it showed that it was controlled by so-called trade union “puppet masters”.

Now, May plays the working-class hero because she wants to keep the social chapter. Or rather, a watered-down version of it that could easily be withdrawn if expediency warrants it.

The truth is, neither old May nor new May have got this right. The social chapter was never a socialist charter, it’s a set of wishy-washy regulations introduced by EU bureaucrats who are fundamentally committed to the free market. It doesn’t guarantee workers anything but the most basic provisions for fair treatment. It only looks meaningful compared to the obscenity of British workplace laws after Thatcher.

Right now, our wages and conditions are in the historical toilet. This decline happened during a period when we’ve had access to all the provisions of the EU social chapter. True, we’re probably better off having formal rights than not having them, but they don’t guarantee better living standards, as Britain today proves.

Formal rights are only worth having if you can defend them. There are two ways you can defend your rights at work. One way is the legal system, but May has already cut off that lifeline with her grotesque attack on employment tribunals. Access to the law is prohibitively expensive for the people who need legal protection the most. That’s a studied injustice that’s built into our system.

The other way to defend yourself at work is through trade union power. However, under Thatcher the Tories introduced the most severe anti-union laws in Europe. Under Cameron, they made this radically worse with the Trade Union Act, introduced even though Britain already had a worryingly low record of strike action. Of course, Theresa May supported the bill. What else did you expect?

Some people might look at Britain’s low rate of strikes and conclude that we must have harmonious workplaces. But that’s a bit like looking at a 99 percent support rate for Robert Mugabe and deducing that Zimbabwe must be a truly happy democracy.

Where strikes aren’t happening, it’s either a sign that people are living in a utopian paradise, or it’s a warning that you’re living in a tyranny. Judge for yourself.

I know confronting the Tories with facts is a bit like presenting a man-eating shark with a complete edition of the writings of Gandhi.

Still, I think there’s an important point here for anti-Tory Britain. If we’re too shy to talk about the working-class majority and its true interests, the Tories will steal it from us. If we ignore the reality of workplaces, why should workers take us seriously?

Maybe facts don’t work. But principles might. And here’s one maxim I defend: trade union rights aren’t just human rights; they are the stuff that human rights are made of. Without our collective institutions, rights are just bits of paper. Only with trade union strength can we hold the powerful to account. That’s where we’ll win improvements for our class, not with the latest piece of Tory propaganda, designed to fool ordinary people once again.