Sunday, November 07, 2010

What next to fight the cuts?

Esteemed blogger Dave Osler is optimistic as ever about the prospects for resistance to the ConDems from the trade unions.

In responding to a call for restrictions on the rights of public sector workers to take industrial action Dave opines that "it is by no means certain that the big public sector unions have got sufficient fight left in them to mount anything more than token resistance to what the Tories and the Lib Dems have in store".

I think that this is a question which needs to be answered by those of us who are trade union activists. UNISON Branches can access campaign resources online very easily. It is in our hands to build the campaign that can stop the Coalition Government in its tracks.

Mike Marqusee in yesterday's Grauniad made a compelling case for health workers to stand up for the health service - even if that means industrial action - and a similar case can be made in all our public services.

We shouldn't need to be persuaded - attacks on public services are not just attacks upon our jobs (and hence our living standards and quality of life) but also upon the quality of life of all working people who rely upon our services.

The question isn't whether we should fight, only how. But this question does raise the further question of how we go about persuading our own members both that there is an alternative to public spending cuts (both in general and in any particular case) and also that we can use our collective power to shift the outcome of a dispute in the direction of that alternative.

It is clearly possible to win the argument with trade union members about the need to take action to defend our interests - the current dispute between the NUJ and the BBC is a topical example of this.

However, it is certainly true that trade unionists generally are not straining at the leash to go on strike, nor that the only thing holding us back is reluctant leadership.

In building up opposition to the ConDems (and - I ought to add - to any acts by Labour employers which essentially implement Government policy) we face the challenge of picking our fights based upon where we have the best chance of mobilising members and the best chance of winning something.

The decision of the London Regional Committee of the FBU in relation to the dispute in London has provoked some fairly predicatable online comment - I think that the tactical decisions governing any particular dispute must be the property of the workers in that dispute and the FBU Regional Committee only suspended the action provided the brigade agreed to go to arbitration and delay any decision on mass sackings until the authority meeting on 26 January. Other commentators may question this decision - but it has to be up to the Firefighters what they do with their own industrial action!

Public sector disputes are political disputes and industrial action is one (very important) tool with which we can apply political pressure.

Tactical decisions in local disputes have to be made in the context of the overall political situation at any point in time, and as activists we need to try to influence both of these aspects.

The TUC demonstration on 26 March seems a long way away and - whilst I am not convinced that the call for a General Strike really resonates with members in the here and now - I do think that we need some further activity far sooner than March, if we are going to encourage members to stand together in opposition to the coming cuts.

The call from the Norfolk Coalition Against Cuts for a demonstration on 4 December corresponds to the devastating cuts proposed in that County - but since we all face such attacks perhaps we should set that date for coordinated activity in every Region and locality?

No comments: