Sunday, April 11, 2010

We need opposition to cuts on the streets - and in Westminster

Yesterday's well attended demonstration in defence of our public services, called by the National Pensioner's Convention and addressed by a variety of trade union General Secretaries was a timely reminder of the vital questions barely being addressed in the General Election campaign( The popular majority in favour of the defence of public services and the welfare state have no one to advocate for our views amongst the leaderships of the three main parties.

Whether our pleasant stroll in the sunshine yesterday really warrants Nick Clegg's warnings today of "Greek style unrest" in the event of draconian cuts implemented by a Tory Government with a small minority may be questionable(

Time will tell whether the General Council of the TUC has more in common with the leadership of the Greek or of the Irish labour movements!

Nick Clegg's desire for a hung Parliament in which the parties co-operate is more than self-interested wishful thinking however. A Parliament with an effective opposition would keep open the political space in which popular, extra-Parliamentary opposition could most effectively be mobilised (even if not with Hellenic militancy).

Clegg wants - in effect - a Government of National Unity not just to get his feet under the cabinet table but also in an attempt to head off such opposition.

I was marching yesterday with left candidate for Unison General Secretary Paul Holmes ( and reminded him of his having raised the possibility of a National Government some months ago.

This is not some interesting constitutional question of interest only to the "chattering classes." We had a local example in Lambeth which was - in the early 1990s - widely (if not justifiably) seen as the worst English local authority.

In 1994 the local electorate returned a "hung" Council which went on to operate on the basis of general cooperation between all three parties. The workforce and community had less influence over this "balanced" (non) administration than we have at any time before or since.

In the four years following 1994 we saw a successful attack upon sick pay in the housing neighbourhoods (which took us five years to reverse); the (then) largest privatisation in the history of English local government (creating a doomed "joint venture company" now widely seen to have been a mistake); the privatisation of leisure management (in a way found by an employment tribunal to have broken the law), and; the disastrous privatisation of housing benefits to Capita (reversed after four years).

(On that last point I really should link to my former fellow Branch Secretary - who may also have some views on predictions of "Greek style unrest" on our streets!)(

In the event of a hung Parliament our trade unions need to maximise opposition in Labour ranks to any suggestion of "national unity" as advocated by Clegg - we will have a lot to oppose outside Parliament and will need allies supporting that opposition within the Palace of Westminster.

Sometimes democracy (in a nation as much as in a trade union) requires the presence of opposition - those who would eliminate opposition are enemies of democracy.

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