Friday, August 27, 2010

Critical Engagement? No Thanks!

Brendan Barber's introduction to the General Council's report to the forthcoming Trades Union Congress ( characterises the response of our movement to what he describes as the "onslaught" from the Coalition Government as one of "critical engagement."

This, he says, has two strands. The first is to engage with Ministers to put our arguments, as when the Equality Minister faced questioning at TUC LGBT Conference. The second is to publicise our criticisms of Government policy.

Neither of those strands of activity are wrong of course, although the latter strand should be going further faster to mobilise the mass opposition to what certainly is an onslaught on the working class and the Welfare State.

However, the political thinking expressed in the description from the TUC General Secretary of how these two "strands" are woven together into a "strategy" reeks of a wholly anachronistic corporatism completely at odds with the reality which now confronts us.

"Critical engagement" reminds me of 1980s debates on the local government left about how to respond to the then Tory Governments Civil Defence Regulations which compelled reluctant local authorities to waste time and money preparing plans to keep services running after a nuclear war.

Lacking the political weight to deliver a policy of (unlawful) outright non-compliance with these daft Regulations, the anti-nuclear local authorities generally adopted a policy of "critical compliance" - engaging in implementation whilst criticising what was being done in private and in public.

The "Nuclear Free Zone" ( local authorities of the 1980s were forced into "critical compliance" because they were politically and constitutionally subordinate to the Government, junior partners in the administration of the state.

The mentality that seeks now to characterise how the trade union movement should respond to the ConDems with the phrase "critical engagement" is one which sees the TUC as subordinate to the Government, essentially a junior partner in the regulation of employment.

This is not the TUC we need. Nor is it a role for the TUC which is on offer from the Government of Millionaires. We now need a trade union centre which sees its role primarily in terms of coordinating the organisation and mobilisation of trade union members.

The Government are not waiting to attack us and the proposal to leave a national demonstration until the spring shows no understanding of the problems we face (of course there should be a national demonstration in the spring - but it shouldn't be the first one we organise between now and then!)

We need to move on now from "critical engagement" to "creative confrontation" if we want to use our real power to best effect to limit the damage from the Government's attacks.

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nick venedi said...


I agree with you on this one and like the term you use, 'creative confrontation' (as long as its civil and peaceful of course) seems to be the only way to deal with what the 'coalition gov' is preparing for us all!

Trina said...

Well, maybe we should look at the Scottish TUC's approach. Remember, the STUC has been completely independent of the TUC for 114 years.

Lets organise for the 23rd October in Edinburgh