Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Two cheers for the "big three" for offering leadership against cuts

Returning to work today was like walking into a blizzard of forthcoming job losses and threats to our public services.
However, as distressing and alarming as were the meetings with management at which these threats were outlined, just as encouraging were the meetings with fellow trade unionists, in UNISON and other unions at which we discussed organising fighting back.
This has set me thinking about the nature of the wonderful example of struggle set for us by students and young people in the weeks before the holidays, and what this means for our trade union movement.
A couple of recent contributions to online debate on the left have put the case well for the proposition that a succesful outcome for the movement of opposition to the Coalition Government - and its assault upon our working class - requires the coming into action of the trade unions.
Leading lefty blogger Dave Osler explains well why the social weight of the union movement is needed for the movement to shake the Government (http://www.davidosler.com/2010/12/student-protests-sorry-kids-wait-for-the-old-gits/).
At the same time, the recent and welcome addition to the blogosphere from my comrade Owen Jones - a bona fide student protester no less! - sets out why the radical and invigorating "leaderlessness" of the struggle of students and young people gives rise to weaknesses of democracy and effectiveness (http://owenjones.org/2011/01/03/leaderless-youth-will-not-bring-this-government-down/).
I share the conclusions of these comrades that - if it is to succeed in forcing a climbdown from the Coalition of the millionaires, the struggle to defend our Welfare State must be founded upon the millions of the organised working class.
That's not Marxist dogma, just a pragmatic acceptance of where power lies and how it may be mobilised.
This sensible conclusion poses however the pressing question of whether the trade union leadership is ready to lead this subversive political struggle against the policy of the Government of the day.
Shortly before the holidays the newly elected General Secretary of UNITE, Len McCluskey, seemed to suggest that there was a willingness to lead this struggle (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/19/unions-students-strike-fight-cuts), thereby inviting condemnation from the same "liberal" paper that had invited him to write (http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/20/trade-unions-leading-nowhere?cat=commentisfree&type=article).
In this regard the joint New Year message from the General Secretaries of the "big three" unions is welcome (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=2105).
It deserves two cheers. The first for spelling out that Government policy is indeed economic vandalism. The second for articulating a series of practical and achievable progressive policy alternatives.
However, to deserve the third cheer - and to bring cheer to the many workers facing redundancy this year (including those who may well be able to bring their P45s on the - vitally important - TUC demonstration on 26 March) - our leaders need to set out a prescription for action which goes some way beyond simply voting against the Coalition partners in the various elections taking place in May.
We need to mobilise members to campaign actively against all cuts in public services (including those sadly being made by Labour Councils), fighting alongside all those being hit by these cuts.
We need to promote and encourage joint union and community activity, drawing upon the inspiration of the recent protests of the students and against tax avoidance.
And we need to plan now to build for united, national industrial action on whichever issue maximises our chances of causing maximum political damage to the illegitimate Government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, for the wealthy. Readers of this blog will know my view that the most sensible proposal - to build a strike against attacks on pensions - has already been made and needs to be acted upon.
The sooner we act, the better our chances. I look forward to an early opportunity to yell out a full three cheers for a leadership worthy of the movement which is growing around us. (Which almost leads me on to the question of whom to nominate in the forthcoming elections to the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC)...)

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