Thursday, February 17, 2011

Take to the trees?

Those in the trade union movement advocating "guerilla struggle" in our "war of attrition" with the Coalition Government will be pleased at the welcome U-turn which has staved off the privatisation of woodland (http://m.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/feb/16/forests-sell-off-cameron-uturn?cat=environment&type=article).

The public woodland may provide cover for our hardy guerilla warriors when they sally forth from Congress House to harry Government forces?

This will be trickier in inner London of course as we don't have too many trees - though with Lambeth Council planning to sack its few park rangers and cut back on the contractor's workforce, such wooded areas as we have may become more overgrown...

The definition of a "war of attrition" is "a struggle in which you harm your opponent in a lot of small ways, so that they become gradually weaker." (http://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/war-of-attrition).

The problem with the perspective of a "war of attrition" is that all the attrition is on our side. We have workers facing compulsory redundancies, managers ignoring agreed procedures - and madcap schemes for enforced privatisation. Every UNISON branch, in every service group, could tell a similar tale.

This one sided attrition weakens us more than we are strengthened in the mean time. Whilst we wait for "the time to be right" for a co-ordinated offensive against the Coalition Government, that date is slipping further away with each blow struck against us.

It is true that our members will be more angry about the pay freeze as inflation, and national insurance bite hard.

It is also true that our members will be more motivated to defend pensions when we see what Hutton has in store, and a clear timetable for increased contributions.

It is similarly true that opposition to spending cuts will grow as their impact is seen.

All these factors do weigh in the balance against aiming in an over hasty way for national action.

However, these factors are outweighed by the real-world real-time impact of the Government's war of attrition on our jobs and services.

Many of the local government workers who will have received redundancy notices before we take to the streets on 26 March will not be there to fight further attacks next year. Their absence will reduce our numbers and discourage those who remain.

Each library or day centre which they succeed in closing will bring anger and demoralisation in equal measure.

Rising unemployment will tilt the balance of power in each workplace away from the shop steward (where there is one) and toward bullying and reactionary managers.

This is not a counsel of despair - rather it indicates the need for urgent action. A trade union movement of six million members need not be weak and fearful. We need to pick a fight, wisely and in a timely way, which can focus all our strength to deliver a hammer blow to the Coalition, rather than localised pinpricks.

The issue is public sector pensions and the time is as soon as practicable, bearing in mind that we have not yet done nearly enough to communicate the seriousness of the attacks already made upon our pensions.

The message of the forests U-turn is that this Government is not invulnerable. If we could knock them back on a major issue we would become stronger and more confident whilst they would become weaker and less certain.

As long as we restrict ourselves to "guerilla struggle" in the "war of attrition" which we are currently losing, then it is their strength that grows and ours that is diminished.

That's why I'll be supporting the candidates of the serious and meaningful left in the forthcoming elections to the UNISON NEC (http://unisonunitedleft.blogspot.com/2011/01/unison-nec-candidates.html).

Every candidate will say they oppose cuts, but those prepared unquestioningly to support the leadership that has spent the last year backing delay have failed to put such sentiments into action.

As well as preparing to campaign for left candidates, activists also need to put down Conference motions, drafted to be steered safely through the standing orders set out in Rule P, which call for united action in defence of public service pensions.

The deadlines are 25 February for Local Government Conference and 1 March for National Delegate Conference. Drop me an email if you have (or would be interested in) possible text for Conference motions for consideration in your branch.



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