Sunday, May 30, 2010

Back to the Future

I remembered my sister, Mim, here a few weeks ago - today is the twenty fifth anniversary of her death, and somehow if feels as if we are right back in the 1980s just now.

Back then I used to read William Keegan in the Observer, (for the elegant despairing Keynesianism rather more than the facial hair) - today he rightly says that "the echoes of the early 1980s are deafening."

A union bashing boss is trying to break a strong trade union with the more than tacit backing of a right wing Government and little in the way of action from the top of the Labour movement. Where have we seen this before?

Who cares that a greedy and stupid millionaire ripped us off for forty grand? His real crime has been in helping to prepare for massive spending cuts which will drive up unemployment and drive down living standards for working class people.

The economic policy of the coalition Government is Thatcherism pure and simple. It is meant to increase unemployment and weaken the ability of workers to resist.

In considering how we respond it's worth a hat tip to Ian from Unite for blogging a link to the latest official statistics on trade union membership.

We are not in a strong position to respond.

In 1985 when I last saw my sister there were still more than 10.8 million trade union members. Now we have fewer than 6.8 million and union density (the percentage of workers in trade unions) has stabilised at just 27.4%.

In 1985 it was possible for socialist candidates to challenge for the leadership of a Party committed to public ownership, the Conference of which could make policy - and global capitalism still faced a global alternative.

Nevertheless respond we must. We do not need austerity. Our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is 72.5% higher now than it was when my sister died. This is an enormously wealthy country (even after a decline in GDP of more than 5% over the past two years.

Cuts in public services, wages and pensions are not an economic necessity. If we let them happen they will have been a political choice.

Our first task is to persuade trade union members that it is possible to fight back. From that we can rebuild our movement and defend our class.

Just like the 80s. We need to consider the lessons of that terrible decade as much as the lessons of the past thirteen years of disappointment.

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