Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Devastation - and our response

A daily diet of redundancy consultation has now led me to a state of near constant anger.

It's easy to be angry with a Government seeking to reverse the historic gains of the postwar settlement, and I am. The combined impact of spending cuts, benefit changes and the break up of health and education will be to devastate our society.

However, when spending cuts begin to be reflected in the the dead look in the eyes of friends and colleagues told after years of service that they may face unemployment then its so much more personal. At the level of each individual cuts proposal, people are hurt who have names, families and smiles which disappear.

At a local level we can keep trying to build up our organisation and sustain our membership so that we can argue and fight job by job - and we can score some victories and win some concessions. I know that I am one amongst thousands of rank and file trade unionists immersed in this work on a daily basis.

But something more needs to be done with the social and political weight of the trade union movement if we are to stand a chance of halting the tide of reaction flowing down Whitehall from Westminster and engulfing the country.

We cannot rely upon Her Majesty's Opposition I fear. It will take much more struggle and activity on our part before we can hope that our Labour Party's leadership will find the confidence and common sense simply to oppose the Government without neoliberal caveats and qualifications. At a local level, Councillors befuddled by the scale of their budget gap are deep in denial and are chasing the illusion of the "Cooperative Council" rather than face the harshness of reality.

Nor should we expect much, I'm afraid, from the isolated remnants of the political left (of which I am very much part). The very fact that we can pick and choose between the People's Charter, the Coalition of Resistance, Right to Work, the National Shop Stewards Network and now the Peoples' Convention demonstrates that Britain's socialists and communists - all of us - are currently failing the very people we aspire to lead and represent.

For now, union activists are left fighting locally and building towards the TUC demonstration on 26 March by way of events such as the SERTUC Day of Action on 15 January and the Day for Libraries on 5 February.

The decision of UNISON's Health Service Group Executive to refuse to be duped into surrendering contractual rights for implausible and unenforceable promises of job security gave me hope much as the wise decision of the NUT Executive to call for action over pensions had.

The leadership of the struggle to save the Welfare State has passed to the leadership of the trade unions.

We need more than a demonstration - we need to plan to build and co-ordinate campaigning which includes the maximum industrial action we can achieve.

At the moment thousands of our members are facing the risk of unemployment and the sacrifice of their jobs - our leaders must make the argument to all our members to take the risks and make the sacrifices of industrial action.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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